Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. All this chapter is a commendation and recommendation of faith, which is the substance of things hoped for, giving as it were a substance in our minds to such things as we are in hopes and in expectation of hereafter, and making them present to us before they come to pass. — It is also a sure conviction of things that appear not. For when God has revealed things, and we believe them upon the divine and infallible authority of the revealer, we have a greater certainty of them than any demonstration can afford us. By this virtue of faith, they of old, our forefathers, obtained a testimony from God that their actions were pleasing to him. (Witham) — Faith is the basis, the foundation supporting our hope; for unless there be faith, there cannot possibly be any hope. (Menochius)
Ver. 3. The faith so highly commended here is not that special faith of sectarists, by means of which persons of various and contradictory tenets pretend to assure themselves that their sins in particular are pardoned for Christ’s sake, but a firm and lively belief of all that God has revealed or promised.
Ver. 4. A sacrifice. Literally, a greater sacrifice than his brother Cain, offering to God the best and fattest cattle he had, by which he obtained a testimony (a mark of God’s approbation) that he was just, and his piety pleasing to God. St. Jerome, from a tradition among the Hebrews, thinks that this mark was, that fire descended from heaven upon Abel’s sacrifice and not upon that of Cain. — And by it, he being dead, yet speaketh. By it, in construction, may be either referred to his faith or to his sacrifice. Some expound it, that by reason of his faith, or of his sacrifice, his memory still lives after his death, and he is commended by all good men. Others think that the apostle alludes to the words which God spoke to Cain, (Genesis iv. 10) “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to me from the earth,” and that in this manner he is said to have spoken after his death. (Witham) — Men of all religions, whether true or false, have offered sacrifices, as being the supreme act of religion; and therefore we may conclude, that what is so general and universal, must have come from the instinct and light of our nature, and be a kind of first principle implanted in us by God himself.
Ver. 5. Henoch[Enoch] was translated, so as not to die nor see death. In Ecclesiasticus (Chap. xliv.) he is said to be translated into paradise. By these words, that he should not see death, it is the general exposition of the ancient interpreters, that he is not dead; but in what place, or in what manner God preserveth him, we know not. See St. Augustine, lib. de pec. orig.[on Original Sin] chap. xxiii.; St. Chrysostom; &c. (Witham)
Ver. 6. He proves the Henoch[Enoch] was translated by faith, or on account of faith, thus: Henoch was translated because he pleased God; now he could not please God but by faith; therefore by faith he was translated. (Menochius)
Ver. 7. Having received an answer,….moved with fear; i.e. with a religious fear: by the Greek, prepared the ark, by which he condemned the rest of the incredulous world, who would not take warning nor believe. (Witham) — Noe[Noah] warned impenitent sinners of impending judgments; but unbelievers and scoffers, they only laughed at Noe’s credulity: thus worldlings, who laugh at the simplicity of the few, who work out their salvation with fear and trembling, will one day see their error, when the former shall perish in their infidelity, and the latter shall triumph in the midst of a falling world.
Ver. 8. By faith he that is called Abraham, &c. He commends his faith, who believing God, left his own country, lived in Chanaan[Canaan] as in a strange country, waiting for the promise and for a city, whose builder and maker is God; i.e. for an habitation in the kingdom of heaven. (Witham)
Ver. 10. The Patriarchs, who lived to a great age, dwelt not in fixed dwellings, but in moveable tents, as pilgrims; whereas their descendants, the period of whose existence is greatly curtailed, pass their time in building and planning as if they were never to die. This earth is a place of our exile, heaven is our true country: let us then live here as strangers and pilgrims, looking forward with anxious desires for our true country, the land of the living, in the bosom of our God.
Ver. 11. By faith also Sara, &c. Though Sara[Sarah] seemed at first incredulous, yet she presently believed, and conceived Isaac when she was past the age of having children. (Witham)
Ver. 12. Him as dead: dead in a manner in that respect, and incapable of having children by Sara[Sarah]. (Witham)
Ver. 13. All these died in the faith of God’s promises; that is, of their posterity, being to be introduced into the promised land of Chanaan[Canaan], but chiefly into the happy country of heaven. For had they only aspired and wished for the country of Chaldea, out of which Abraham came, they had time enough to have returned thither. (Witham) — A metaphor taken from sailors, who, after a long and dangerous voyage, no sooner descry their native country, but they hail it with transports of joy: thus in Virgil:
Italiam, Italiam, primus conclamat Achates.
Thus the Patriarchs, when beholding at a distance, and through faith, their heavenly country, hailed it with joyous and repeated accents, eagerly desiring to reach the envied port.
Ver. 17. By faith Abraham….offered up Isaac; i.e. was ready and willing to do it, when Isaac was his only son, by whom God had promised to give him a numberless progeny, but by faith he considered that God, who had miraculously given him a son, could if he pleased raise him to life again. (Witham)
Ver. 19. Whence also he received him for a parable. Some understand by this, that both Abraham and his son became hereby an example of a perfect obedience to God, which all nations should admire. St. Chrysostom, says, that Abraham received again his son safe in a figure, by being ordered to sacrifice for him a ram, which was a figure of Isaac. Others, that Abraham received again his son Isaac, who was a figure of Christ sacrificed on the cross, and risen again. Christ carried the cross on which he was to suffer, as Isaac carried the wood up to the mountain where he was to have been offered. (Witham) — Parable; that is, as a figure of Christ slain and coming to life again. (Challoner)
Ver. 21. Jacob….worshipping the top of Joseph’s rod, or staff of command, or of his sceptre. See Genesis xlvii. Jacob, by bowing to Joseph and his sceptre, acknowledged and reverenced the power of Joseph, whom Pharao called the saviour of the world: and it is probable that Jacob, by the spirit of prophecy, knew Joseph to be a figure of Christ, and his power to be a figure of the spiritual power of the Messias. (Witham) — The apostle here follows the ancient Greek Bible of the seventy interpreters[the Septuagint], (which translates in this manner, Genesis xlvii. 31.) and alleges this fact of Jacob, in paying a relative honour and veneration to the top of the rod or sceptre of Joseph, as to a figure of Christ’s sceptre and kingdom, as an instance and argument of his faith. But some translators, who are no friends to this relative honour, have corrupted the text, by translating it, he worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff; as if this circumstance of leaning upon his staff were any argument of Jacob’s faith, or worthy the being thus particularly taken notice of by the Holy Ghost: (Challoner) Besides, if Jacob’s staff, and not Joseph’s rod or sceptre, had been spoken of, the Greek would have been autou, suæ, not autou, ejus: but this relative honour or worship is not pleasing to them.
Ver. 22. Concerning his bones. That is, that when the Israelites should leave Egypt, they should take with them his bones, to be buried in Chanaan [Canaan] with his ancestors. This shews he had faith on God’s promises, that he would give the Israelites the land of Chanaan. (Witham)
Ver. 23. By faith Moses….was hid three months, &c. It is not improbable what Josephus relates, (lib. ii. Jewish Antiquities, chap. 5) that the parents of Moses, by revelation from God, or by some extraordinary marks, were persuaded that he should deliver the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt, and conduct them into the land of promise. (Witham)
Ver. 24-26. By faith Moses….chose rather to be afflicted with the people of God, than to be honoured as the son of Pharao’s daughter, and to enjoy short sinful pleasures in the court of the king. — Esteeming the reproach of Christ: by which seems to be signified, that Moses, to whom Christ and his sufferings were revealed, chose rather to endure such reproaches and contradictions from his brethren, the Israelites, as Christ was to suffer from the Jews, than to have all the short pleasures of what is called a happy life. See St. Chrysostom, hom. xxvi. — For he looked unto the reward; not any temporal reward or advantage in this life, but a reward from God in heaven, or rather where God himself would be his reward. (Witham)
Ver. 27. He left Egypt. Some understand this, when he fled to Madian, after he killed the Egyptian; but it was rather fear than faith which made him flee at that time. We may rather expound it of his going away with all the people, when by faith he trusted that God would deliver him and the people from the known fierceness of king Pharao, as it also happened. — For he endured, as seeing him that is invisible. That is, seeing by the eyes of faith the invisible God to be his protector, he endured and overcame all difficulties with courage and constancy. (Witham)
Ver. 30. The following examples are clear enough, if we look into the history and particular actions of those here named. It was a faith in God’s mercies and promises that gave them courage, resolution, and perseverance amidst all dangers and difficulties, against all afflictions and persecutions, that made them despise the short happiness of this mortal life, in hopes of an immortal happiness hereafter. Yet they who are so much commended and approved for their faith, received not the great promise of entering into the kingdom of heaven; and they who lived and died well, were indeed in a place of rest, but their souls were not admitted to the beatifical vision, to see and enjoy God in heaven, till our blessed Saviour [Jesus Christ], at his glorious ascension, entered first, and opened as it were heaven’s gates for others to enter. In this God provided something better for us, who, after his coming, if we die without sin, and without any temporal punishments due to sin, our souls are presently happy with God in heaven. (Witham)
Ver. 37. Melon signifies a sheep; melote signifies a sheep skin, with the wool on it. This, or a goat skin, was the usual covering of poor people, and as such was adopted by the ancient prophets, mortified to all the luxuries of life. Thus Elias[Elijah] is called vir pillosus, a hairy man, not for his beard or hair, but for his shaggy or hairy covering.
 Ver. 1. Substantia, upostasis, subsistentia.
 Ver. 1. Argumentum, elegchos. Convictio, ostensio. It does not seem well translated evidence, as by the Protestants and Mr. N. because faith is an obscure knowledge, though it be the most certain, because of the infallible authority of God, who has revealed those obscure mysteries.
 Ver. 1. Emarturethesan, testimonium consecuti sunt. This expression, which is repeated ver. 4, 5, and 39, signifies an approbation or commendation.
 Ver. 4. Plurimam hostiam, pleiona thusian, majorem.
 Ver. 7. Metuens, eulabetheis, which signifieth a fear with reverence. See Hebrews v. 7.
 Ver. 12. Et hoc emortuo: the ordinary Greek copies have, kai tauta nenek romenou; i.e. secundum hæc, or in this respect dead, being incapable of having children by Sara.
 Ver. 19. Eum in parabolam accepit, en parabole, in typo, in similitudine. St. Chrysostom says, toutestin en upodeigmati.
 Ver. 21. Adoravit fastigium virgæ ejus, prosekunesen epi to akron tes rabdon autou epi does not change the signification. See St. Chrysostom and Estius.
 Ver. 27. Invisibilem enim tanquam videns sustinuit: ekarterese, i.e. sustinuit non Deum, sed animositatem regis.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
What faith is: its wonderful fruits and efficacy, demonstrated in the fathers.
1 Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.
2 For by this the ancients obtained a testimony.
3 *By faith we understand that the world was framed by the word of God; that from invisible things visible things might be made.
4 *By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice exceeding that of Cain, *by which he obtained a testimony that he was just, God giving testimony to his gifts; and by it he being dead, yet speaketh.
5 *By faith Henoch was translated, that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had testimony that he pleased God.
6 But without faith it is impossible to please God. For he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and is a rewarder to them that seek him.
7 *By faith Noe having received an answer concerning those things which as yet were not seen, moved with fear, framed the ark for the saving of his family, whereby he condemned the world: and was instituted heir of the justice which is by faith.
8 *By faith he that is called Abraham, obeyed, to go out into a place which he was to receive for an inheritance: and he went out not knowing whither he went.
9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in cottages, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.
10 For he looked for a city that hath foundations: whose builder and maker is God.
11 *By faith also Sara herself, being barren, received strength to conceive seed, even past the time of age: because she believed that he was faithful who had promised.
12 For which cause there sprung, even from one (and him as dead) as the stars of heaven in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea-shore, innumerable.
13 All these died according to faith, not having received the promises, but beholding them afar off, and saluting them, and confessing, that they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth.
14 For they that say these things, do signify that they seek a country.
15 And truly if they had been mindful of that from whence they came out, they had doubtless time to return:
16 But now they desire a better, that is to say, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
17 *By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered Isaac; and he who had received the promises, offered up his only begotten son:
18 To whom it was said: *That in Isaac shall seed be called to thee:
19 Accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead: from whence also he received him for a parable.
20 *By faith also Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
21 *By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph: **and worshipped the top of his staff.
22 *By faith Joseph, when dying, made mention of the going out of the children of Israel: and gave commandment concerning his bones.
23 *By faith Moses when he was born, was hid three months by his parents, because they saw he was a comely infant, **and they feared not the king’s edict.
24 *By faith Moses, when he was grown up, denied himself to be the son of Pharao’s daughter,
25 Choosing rather to be afflicted with the people of God, than to have the pleasure of sin for a time;
26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasure of the Egyptians: for he looked to the reward.
27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the fierceness of the king: for he endured as seeing him that is invisible.
28 *By faith he celebrated the pasch, and the shedding of the blood: that he, who destroyed the first born, might not touch them.
29 *By faith they passed through the Red Sea, as by dry land: which the Egyptians attempting, were swallowed up.
30 *By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, by the going round them seven days.
31 *By faith Rahab the harlot perished not with the unbelievers, receiving the spies with peace.
32 And what shall I yet say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, of Barac, of Samson, of Jephthe, of David, of Samuel, and of the prophets:
33 Who by faith subdued kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained the promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness regained strength, became valiant in war, put to flight the armies of foreigners:
35 Women received their dead raised to life again: but others were racked, not accepting deliverance, that they might find a better resurrection.
36 And others had trial of mockeries and stripes, moreover also of bands and prisons:
37 They were stoned, they were cut asunder, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword, they wandered about in sheep skins, in goat skins, being in want, distressed, afflicted:
38 Of whom the world was not worthy: wandering in deserts, in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth.
39 And all these being approved by the testimony of faith, received not the promise,
40 God providing something better for us, that they should not be perfected without us.
3: Genesis i. 4.
4: Genesis iv. 4. — ** Matthew xxiii. 35.
5: Genesis v. 24.; Ecclesiasticus xliv. 16.
7: Gen. vi. 14.; Eccli. xliv. 17.
8: Genesis. xii. 1.
11: Genesis xvii. 19.
17: Genesis xxii. 1.; Ecclesiasticus xliv. 21.
18: Genesis xxi. 12.; Romans ix. 7.
20: Genesis xxvii. 27. and 39.
21: Genesis xlviii. 15. — ** Genesis xlvii. 31.
22: Genesis l. 23.
23: Exodus ii. 2. — ** Exodus i. 17.
24: Exodus ii. 11.
28: Exodus xii. 21.
29: Exodus xiv. 22.
30: Josue vi. 20.
31: Josue ii. 3.; James ii. 25.