The "Substance" of Hebrews 11:1

Pulpit and student helps.

By WALTER E. READ, General Field Secretary of the General Conference

Many are the texts in Holy Scripture which make reference to faith—faith not only from the standpoint of doc­trine, as may be indicated in Jude 3, but also in the fuller sense of unqualified belief and implicit trust in God. Many aspects of this question are revealed in the Divine Word, but only occa­sionally do we find what might be regarded as a definition of faith. In Romans 4:58-22 we are led to conclude, and rightly so, that faith is un­wavering, unquestioning confidence in the word God has spoken : that it lays hold of the prom­ises of God and rests upon them, even though all appearances might indicate the contrary. There is one text, however, where faith is ex­plained, or one might say defined, and that is Hebrews II: "Now faith is the substance 4 things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Here faith is stated to be the substance of things hoped for. Naturally the thing we hope for, we do not possess. (Rom. 8:24, 25.) It is something not within our grasp at the moment of asking, or if it is, in part, our prayers indi­cate that we long for it in greater measure. In such a case we present the promise of God in our supplications. Then faith lays hold of the promise, accepts it as sure and certain, in fact, lays claim to it because the promises of God never fail. Furthermore, faith believes it re­ceives that for which it prays at the time the petition is offered. Mark ii :24: "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."

In this sense we have the substance of that which is contained in the promise. This we re­ceive by faith; then when we need it most God will make real to us that which we have al­ready accepted by faith. The margin of- He­brews is a gives "ground, or, confidence" of things hoped for.

We might, however, endeavor to ascertain a little more of what this word substance really means. In pursuing this study there are offered herewith certain considerations.

As Used in the Translations

"Substance"—A.V., Douay,1 Variorum,2 Wyclif,° Rhiems 4

"Confidence"—Rotherham,° Tyndale,° Young,7 Mof­fatt ("Confident"),8 Cranmer,9 Variorum 10

"Ground or confidence"—A.V. (Margin)11

"Giving substance to"—R.V. ( Margin) Moulton12

"Assurance"—R.V. Cunnington,13 Goodspeed,14 Interlinear 15

"Well grounded assurance"—Weymouth16

"Standing ground"—Fenton 17

"Basis"—Emphatic Diaglott 18

"Persuasion"—Syriac 19

"Realization"—aoth Century "20

"Subsistence"—Wesley 21

2. As Used in the Greek New Testament

The word "hypostasis" inrOarautg is used five - times in the Greek New Testament, and is ren­dered in the Authorized Version as follows :

In Hebrews 11:1 ---------------------------------  "Substance"

" Hebrews 1:3 ---------------------------------------  "Person"

" 2 Corinthians 11:17 ; Hebrews 3 :14 ----------------

-----------------------------------------------  "Confidence"

" 2 Corinthians 9 :4                               "Confident"

3. As It Is Used in the LXX20

The word hypostasis is used in the LXX about twenty times, and is the translation of twelve different Hebrew words. A few in­stances of the use of the word, as translated in the Authorized Version, can be seen in the fol­lowing:

In Deuteronomy xx :6  ----------------------- "Substance"

" Psalms 69 : 2  ----------------------------------------------------------- "Standing"

" Psalms 39:7 -------------------------------  "Hope"

" Judges 6 :4 ------------------------------------  "Sustenance"

The general idea as expressed in its use is that of "foundation," "substructure," etc. Of the twelve Hebrew words referred to above, nine are translated "hypostasis" in the LXX, each but once, two are translated by this word twice each, and one, five times.

4. As Used in the Lexicons, etc.

a. In Thayer's Greek Lexicon: 22 "A setting or placing under ; things put under ; sub-strata; foundation, also steadiness of mind, firmness, courage, resolution."

b. In the Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament,' by G. Abbott Smith: "To set under, stand under, support .. . base or founda­tion .. . substance . . . steadiness, firmness ... , hence assurance, confidence."

On Hebrews 11:1, he remarks, "Here per­haps title-deed, as that which gives reality or guarantee."

c. In Liddell and Scott's Greek Lexicon.' Here the word is dealt with under six differ­ent sections, referring to its varied uses; sec­tions I to 5 are: "Sediment, foundation, sub­structure, ground-work, courage, confidence, steadiness, undertaking, promise, substance, reality." Under section 6 is to be found "wealth, substance, property, title deeds, docu­ments recording ownership of property."

d. In Moulton and Milligan's Vocabulary of the Greek Testament:" This authority main­tains that "substance" means property, effects, written undertaking, agreements of sale, evi­dence of ownership. And then there is the fol­lowing summing up: "These varied uses are at first sight somewhat perplexing, but in all cases there is the same central idea of something that underlies visible conditions, and guarantees fu­ture possession. And as this is the essential meaning in Hebrews II :I, we venture to sug­gest the translation, 'faith is the title deed of things hoped for.' "—Page 66o.

e.In Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament:" "It is common in the papyri in business documents as the basis or guarantee of transactions. 'And as this is the essential mean­ing in Heb. II :I, we venture to suggest the translation, "faith is the title-deed of things hoped for."' (Moulton and Milligan's Vocabu­lary of the Greek Testament, etc.)."

The finding of ancient papyri has been of inestimable value in determining the true mean­ing of the many Greek words as found in the New Testament. The word hypostasis is a case in point. This will be appreciated more fully in perusing the next section (Section 5). From the testimonies given above, however, we are undoubtedly fully justified in translating the word title-deed in Hebrews is :I. With this conclusion the following authorities also agree : Cunnington's Translation of the New Testa­ment' (in a footnote). The Companion Bible" (in a footnote). Student's Greek New Testa­ment" (marginal note).

5. As Used in the Ancient Papyri

Reference has already been made to the in­valuable help obtained from these ancient docu­ments in better understanding the meaning of many New Testament words.

In the Oxyrhynchus papyri as tabulated by Grenfell and Hunt, Part 2, we find some inter­esting data on the use of the word hypostasis. In one of these documents, papyri no. 237, there are certain references to hypostasis which en­able one to see how the word was understood in and around A.D. 186. Actually there are two references in this papyri, and both are used in connection with the complaint of Dionysia. These are in column 4, line 39; and column 8, line 26.

The whole story reveals a complicated legal case in which Dionysia complains against her father, Chaeremon, on the question of his right to take her away from her husband against her will. In defending herself, she cited the agree­ment between herself and her father, and at­tached also a proclamation by the late prefect.

Flavius Sulpicius Similis. In this citation she refers to the agreement of her "hypostasia."

Commenting on column 8, line 26, the author remarks on page 176: (see pdf for Greek font), of which the central meaning is 'substance,' i.e. property . . , is used here for the whole body of docu­ments bearing on the ownership of a person's property (whether evroyQacpat, sales, mortgages, &c.) deposited in the archives, and forming the evidence of ownership."

Some time ago an interesting brochure was published in New Zealand by H. R. Minn, M.A., associated with the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. The title of the bro­chure is Living Yesterdays." This is an account of the language of the New Testament, with appendices on relevant aspects of the papyri discoveries.

In the introduction to this brochure, L. M. Blaiklock, M.A., senior lecturer in classics in Auckland University, New Zealand, writes:

"It is a temptation to tell of Dionysia. She was a woman of set jaw and grim determination. She lost a case in legal court over a piece of land. . . . But Dionysia appealed to Alexander. The slave who car­ried her documents in a stone box perished that night when the inn where he slept blazed over his head. The sands of the desert and the east wind were his winding sheet, and he lay there until today. Charred bones and the dispatch box! The archeologists read Dionysia's appeal : 'In order that my lord and judge may know that my appeal is just, I attach my hypostasis.' It was the difficult word in Hebrews 11 :1. The attached,document was examined. It was Dionysia's title. deeds! So, 'Faith is the title deeds of things hoped for.' How full and rich the metaphor plucked from the busy world of trade and commerce, and we have given way to the temptation to tell a good story, but it is so typical of the history of the papyri."

Thus light from the ancient papyri is thrown upon one of the words in the Greek New Testa­ment. It is certainly interesting and helpful to observe at least one of the ways this word was used in the early days of the Christian era. What a blessed assurance we have as we re­ceive the promise of God by faith ! The man­sions in the city of God are ours because the word of the Lord cannot fail. When we receive the promise by faith, we have the title deeds of the eternal inheritance.


1 Holy Bible, Douay Version (Baltimore and New York : John Murphy Co., 1899).

2Holy Bible, Variorum Edition (London : Eyre and Spottiswoode).

3 The English Hexapla (London: Samuel Bagster & Sons, /841).

4 Ibid.

5 The New Testament, Critically Emphasized (Lon­don: Rotherham, Samuel Bagster & Sons).

6 The English Hexapla.

7 The Whole Bible (London: Robert Young, Sam­uel Bagster & Sons).

8The New Testament, A New Translation, James Moffatt (London: James Moffatt, Hodder & Stough­ton).

9 The English Hexapla.

10 The Holy Bible, Variorum Edition.

11Moulton's Reader's Bible (New York : Macmil­Ian, 1908).

12 The New Testament, Translated by E. E. Cun­nington (London and Edinburgh: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, Ltd,).

13 The Bible, A Modern Translation, New Testa­ment, Edgar J. Goodspeed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

14 Greek-English New Testament (Philadelphia : Interlinear Translation, Daniel McKay Co.).

15 The New Testament in Modern Speech (London : R. F. Weymouth, 3d edition, James Clarke & Co.).

16 The Complete Bible in Modern English (London & New York : Farrar Fenton, S. W. Partridge & Co., Ltd.).

17 Emphatic Diaglott (New York : International Bible Students Assn., 1942).

18 Syriac New Testament (Boston & London: Mur­dock's Translation, Scriptural Tract Repository).

19 The Twentieth Century New Testament (New York: Revell).

20 John Wesley's New Testament (Philadelphia : J. C. Winston Company).

21 Concordance to the Septuagint (Oxford, Eng­land: Hatch & Redpath, Clarendon Press).

22 Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, J. H. Thayer (New York: Harpers).

23 A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (London: G. Abbott Smith, T. & T. Clark).

24 Greek English Lexicon (Liddell & Scott, new 2 -vol. ed.,by Steward Jones & McKenzie).

25 The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (New York & Toronto: Moulton 8z Milligan, Hodder & Stoughton).

26 Word Pictures in the New Testament (New York & London: A. T. Robertson, vol. 5, Harpers).

27 The New Testament, Translated by E. E. Cun­nington.

28 The Companion Bible (New York, Toronto, Mel­bourne: Humphrey Milford, vol. 6, Oxford Univer­sity Press).

29 Student's Greek New Testament (London: Bag-stars).

30 The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, part 2, Grenfell and Hunt (London: Oxford University Press).

31 Living Yesterdays, H. R. Minn (Dunedin, New Zealand : A. H. and A. W. Reed).

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By WALTER E. READ, General Field Secretary of the General Conference

March 1947

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