I have some language skills. My LDS mission to Japan gave me the opportunity of first learning a foreign language. The Japanese language is elegant, simple, and quite beautiful (at least in its spoken form – writing it is pretty tough).
Years later I had a special opportunity to spend nearly two years studying Arabic from native instructors. Arabic has its own logic and rigorous symmetry. I am extremely grateful to be reasonably proficient in a language spoken by hundreds of millions.
Because I am partial to the Bible as scripture as well as literature, I decided a few years ago that I would teach myself to read and understand Biblical Greek and Hebrew. I have made much progress and with the help of some fairly expensive computer programs, can delve into verses with all the rigor and aplomb of a reasonably well educated seminarian.
Now to the good stuff. This is my first foray into a public exegesis of scripture. If I don’t make an utter fool of myself, then I hope to make this an ongoing exercise.
“Faith” is a religiously vital but somewhat loaded word. When we see it, we bring our own preconceptions to what the word means. There are theological patinas attached to it. Recently as I was reading the scriptures, I decided to take a fresh approach to the word “faith”. I also decided to pick a starting point. I began with Hebrews 11:1:
Now afaith is the bsubstance of things choped for, the devidence of things not seen.
(KJV | New Testament | Hebrews 11:1)
The Greek word πίστις pistis is almost universally translated as “faith” in most versions of the English New Testament. The analogue in Latin is fides and essentially means confidence, assurance, trust or warrant. Stripped of theological weight, the word seems to mean trust or assurance.
The really interesting part for me is the word “substance”. Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, in his translation replaced the word “substance” with “assurance”. I was quite surprised to see the NASB version of the Bible translate it with the word “assurance”. I guess Joseph Smith was a pretty okay translator. The Greek for “substance” or “assurance” is ὑπόστασις hypostasis which has some very profound aspects to it. Let’s pay special attention to hypostasis for a moment or two.
The BDAG says this about it:
the essential or basic structure/nature of an entity, substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality (underlying structure, oft. in contrast to what merely seems to be)
When I encountered this particular meaning, it sparked an insight for me. If the hypostasis or substance/assurance is the basic structure of reality, then faith as a principle is trust in the inherent structure or reality of the Universe. Faith isn’t just a passive belief in a thing or a weak assent to a religious concept. Faith is trust in the essence of reality itself.
One of the things I remember from Hugh Nibley is when he said that what we’re dealing with here on earth is not the real show; the real thing is in the eternities, that’s the real reality, not this “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” present (Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2).
“Now faith is the substance/assurance/essence/reality of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
It is not unreasonable for believers to assert that their faith is reasonable. We hope for God because our faith in grounded in the real, not the unreal.
The evidence of things not seen! Here the Greek is πραγμάτων pragmaton indicates something that has been done, a deed, and act, something that is past tense real or fulfilled. I like how this idea ties in intimately with the first. Then with ἔλεγχος elegchos we get to the actual proof. It is the evidence of the matters unseen.
And so we have: “Now faith is the substance/assurance/essence/reality of things hoped for, the evidence/deed/act/action/affair of things not seen.”
Or, dare I presume to make my own translation from the Greek?
“Now faith is the reality of that which is hoped for, the evidence of completed actions”. (Heb 11:1 my translation).
When you take the scriptures seriously and try to dig deep, you find inexhaustible treasures.