I’ve been thinking about that famous chapter of the book of Hebrews, chapter eleven, frequently called the “Hall of Fame.” The chapter begins with a discussion of the nature of faith. The writer of Hebrews (we don’t really know who that is) does something that neither John, Paul, nor James do – he defines the word “faith.” And, wouldn’t you know?, he uses the word a tad differently than the other guys (who all use the word differently from each other – a topic for another day). Faith, for the writer, is both a rational thing and an action thing.
ByTheWay, no Biblical writer ever suggests that faith is a “blind leap” like wishful thinking. That is a completely un-Biblical understanding of the word.
The point of this whole section (and the writer has been working up to it throughout the book) is that faith is what saves. Hebrews 11:2 “For by it the people of old received their commendation.” That is, the idea of salvation by faith is not some new-fangled idea invented by John or Paul. It’s been around from the Very Beginning.
There are some really interesting things to notice in the chapter. First, the writer seems to emphasize a ‘declaratory’ nature to faith in the time before Moses. People are commended, speak (4, 14), are warned, are called, condemn, receive promises, bless, and make mention. These are all words related to speech, to declaring something. At the same time, notice that these people also are doing things. Kinda a ‘speech-act’ notion. Interestingly, after Moses faith is demonstrated pretty much only by action.
But then Moses comes along. There are three Great Heroes to the Hebrew people: Abraham (Father - identity), Moses (Prophet), and David (king). The writer deals with two of them, Abraham and Moses. Like Paul and James, the writer affirms that Abraham was not justified by the Law, but by vital faith. Even more startling to the readers (Hebrews) is that "The Law Giver," Moses, was approved before God because of his faith – not his ability to keep the Law! Even today we refer to that governmental, sacrificial, and ethical complex of rules as “The Law of Moses.” But the writer slaps that down pointing out that even Moses wasn’t justified because of The Law that bears his name.
But the REAL agenda that the writer wants to emphasize is that it is only Jesus who is the standard, source, and object of faith. It is clear that every person mentioned in the so-called “Roll Call of Faith” was a sinner; some of them notoriously so. But Jesus is the perfect example of faith. The writer says, in 12:1-2, (pardon my paraphrase): ‘While you have all of those examples of so-called “Great Faith,” you’re looking in the wrong direction. You need to look at Jesus – he’s the Real Deal.’
So the writer’s argument is that it is faith in a proper object, from a proper source, and actually relied upon that saves. And it has always been that way.