Hebrews 11 is often viewed as an ode to faith. The word faith, pistis in Greek, is repeated some twenty-six times in this chapter alone, demonstrating its significance to the author’s overall message. The chapter begins with the author’s definition of faith; faith is “the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” The author then proceeds to explain the exploits of various figures in the Hebrew Bible. This ancestral roll call commemorates the faith of these men and women and encourages its audience to imitate their examples.
This litany of the names serves as a theological account of the history of the faith community. Beginning with God, the writer explains in
Did you know…?
- Rahab also appears in the genealogy of Jesus in
- The only mention of Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah in the New Testament is in
Who is named among the faithful?
The first named ancestor is Abel, not Adam. While this may seem like an odd starting point, Abel receives God’s approval because of his acceptable sacrifice. Perhaps as expected, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are all named since they are often understood to be progenitors of the faith. Esau is also named as having received his father’s blessing alongside his brother Jacob. Enoch and Noah are both named because they are described in the Bible as walking with God (
The faithful include various categories of leaders: warriors, judges, prophets, and kings. Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel, and the prophets are all named. Jephthah is a mighty warrior, driven from his home, who sacrifices his daughter and only child, honoring the vow he made to God (
Are any women named among the faithful?
Rahab and Sarah are the only women named in the chapter, though there is a reference to the women who received their dead (
Hebrews 11 demonstrates that stories of faith depend upon the writer’s perspective. The lessons of history are always contextual, told from a particular perspective with a particular emphasis. The audience of Hebrews and the ancestors described in the text are seemingly connected by feelings of alienation and their shared identity of unashamedly being God’s people. The ancestors remained faithful despite their suffering, and the audience is encouraged to imitate or participate in this faithfulness. Still, this is a partial list. We must also consider: Who is not named? Whose stories are excluded?
Understanding Hebrews as a sermon, as some scholars do, may help explain the silences, gaps, and emphasis found in this chapter. The overall message of Hebrews is one of encouragement. In the end, these heroes and heroines are described as saints in waiting. They belong to the great cloud of witnesses referenced at the beginning of chapter 12. These exemplars of the faith become witnesses for the faithful, part of a welcoming committee, waiting for all to be joined together. The audience shares in this heritage of faithfulness, joining together the past, present, and future children of God.