Why a literal reference to Hebrews 11:1 to unilaterally define faith only blurs your understanding of how faith works

An Exegesis: 1. Why a literal reference to Hebrews 11:1 to unilaterally define faith only blurs your understanding of how faith works. 2. What do Book of Hebrews and the Bible Really Say on Falling Away?

The bimonthly dinner potluck my family co-coordinates and attends for Bible studies and support group activities had a deep-level study of the Word during the scheduled August 30 get-together. There were a few digressions and impassioned but respectful variances in opinions which from my perspective, is not only highly indicative that interest is piqued and that the subject needs revisiting, it could very well also be a sign that we are growing as a learning community. That’s Good News!

It’s great that we’re having a robust conversation and that we’re being open about discussing subjective and influenced readings of the Scripture. And now as a family group, we get to dig into what the text actually tells us. That is amazing!

Bible studies are not a persuasion-centric gathering but rather, it’s an objective look of the text and a conversation about how we can be better in serving and loving each other and others.

Our last group study was focused on Matthew 12 and 13. In the interest of staying on point and respecting time, we cut short all digressed discussions. We put an implied earmark on them for future studies.

One contention brought out was that the definitive description of faith lies in the very verbatim text of Hebrews 11:1. Here then is my critical exposition of Hebrews 11:1 which includes an explanation why a literal and boxed used of this verse prevents not just a mindful understanding of the author’s narrative but it also veers us away from getting an insightful look at faith —or Faith As Defined and Embodied.

Think of a scene from your favorite film. That scene is connected not just to the plot but to the other components of the storyline. That scene is not the totality of the movie but a moving part of the narrative. It’s not intended to be treated as a disjointed, standalone unit of the film because if it is, then it should be its separate individual movie.

It’s the same with the Bible. No part of the Bible should be read or studied in isolation of the whole literary unit. Hebrews 11:1 is another example of a reading that shouldn’t be pulled in isolation or treated as strange from the unified literary study. When drawn separately, even when used as a faith affirmation quote, the passage becomes susceptible to being taken out of context.

I’ll state this very clearly. The text in Hebrews 11:1 is not to be read as a literal reality of willingly believing what’s not there. Instead, it should be acknowledged for its literary purpose which is a thesis statement of the chapter, “Now FAITH is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

The author of Hebrews is not prescribing a mystical belief. Nor is the author advising to trust without verifiable evidence. In short, faith is not believing you will one day win the lottery jackpot. It isn’t trusting that your marriage is divinely intended while your spouse beats the daylight out of you.

The Book of Hebrews is what we can refer to as a catalog of faith. Like the other 65 books in the Bible, it has to be read and studied as part of a unified literary work in its finished form. Please refer below to the photo of the four principles of foundational Bible reading and study.

In Hebrews, faith is rigorously described in chapter 11 as non-transactional. The author will support this claim by naming various examples of people in the Torah who exemplified the virtue. The author will conclude that even though none of them got to live out what was promised by God, they knew, believed, and trusted the divinity of God. The point is, they didn’t have to first see the results in order to live their faith. It’s not ”Show me the money” like it was in Jerry Maguire. The whole study of the chapter is that faith is premised on the character and being of God. The faith by which the forefathers displayed shared common characteristics of knowledge and insight (of who and what God is), belief (in his being), and trust (safety under his care).

Whilst the above teaches and preaches us about faith, Apostle John in 1 John 4:12 and 13 shows us a cognizant way faith is developed and lived, “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.”

The preceding exegesis also illuminates a basic point concerning another digression, falling away. I will say this again, no part of the Bible whether verse or a book should be studied apart from the entire narrative of all 66 books combined. First, let’s see what the Scriptures say in gist about the function of the Spirit in the world, specifically in reference to Salvation by Grace.

WHILE IN THE CONDITION OF SIN, THE FUNCTION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IS TO CONVICT THE WORLD OF THE REALITY OF SIN, THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD AND THE INESCAPABLE JUDGMENT THAT FOLLOWS (John 14-16).

Hence, when a person answers the call of the Spirit, in effect by faith this person also accepts God’s transforming grace. Positionally, this individual moves into the family of God where the condition of sin is removed once and for all. I also need to be clear that this doesn’t mean that a person will no longer commit sins or that she or he is exempt from the vulnerability of sin. By the same token, once you are positionally moved into the family of God, you cannot be unsaved. Because if this is so, then you are saying that the process of Salvation has to be repeated. In short, you are also pointing to the belief that Christ has to be crucified again each time you are ”falling away.”

In fact, the book of Hebrews is a direct rebuke to anybody who professed faith yet their lives remain unchanged. If the foundational premise of Salvation and your personal relationship with God is that you have been transformed by grace through your faith, the natural overall progression is towards a maturing predisposition for greater goodness. Herod Antipas whom Jesus calls a fox (uncleaned animal) is an example of a person who claims faith but doesn’t really have anything to show for as evidence of a transformed life.

Inarguably, if one has truly received God’s transforming grace through faith, there’s an inevitable and marked paradigm shift in that person’s life that’s pointed towards a continuing process of loving everyone everywhere.

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The Basics of Bible Reading

I’m a woman of deep faith, not religious or doctrinal. I’m highly skeptical and a mindfully thinking person. Although notably unpopular in religious and faith-based sectors, I tend to question many things written in the Bible. The Bible is God-breathed. However, I see and refer to it as a tool to enhance my faith and not as God-incarnate or a divine book to worship or treat in utmost reverence.

The Bible is a redacted collection of specific stories, poems, and lyrics deemed critical by both the remnant exilic and conquered ancestors to pass on from generation to generation.

It is a collection of 66 books written by over 44 authors in three continents over a span of maybe two thousand years. All 66 books are to be read as a singular literary unit. The Bible is cohesively connected and unified by three literary essentials: 1. continuing narrative, 2. conflict and, the 3. central theme and conflict resolution.

As part of a continuing challenge to as objectively as possible get to the heart of all of its 66 books, I have to accept that while it is an essential source of historical records, the Bible is not comprehensive. Nor is the Bible written as a scientific tool to systematically describe the people and culture of ancient times.

And this is why I argue that in order to truly understand the Bible’s text, we must also study history, look at maps, and learn linguistics along with the many forms of literature by which the Bible go by. I have no intention of debating about individual or group beliefs on certain controversial topics. What I advocate for everyone to commit to is to go by the empirical way of studying the Bible (as a unified literary unit) —by engaging the text on its own terms rather than exploring personal or communal interpretations.

An In-Depth Look At How To Effectively Study The Bible—an avid learner’s take

Studying the Bible objectively entails digging into the history, geography, language, authorship, and the literary nature of it. Like I said before, to get to the fundamentals (understanding and applying the lessons and principles), we have to go by the basics first. For instance, you can’t go on preaching ”Love your neighbor” when the concept of love and neighbor are individualized and converted into doctrinal subsets. Before we can even arrive at the fundamental of love and neighbor, we have to get to the basics of reading the two in its right context.

In other words, it is both essential and urgent to teach the readers the basics of reading while also navigating through the complexity and simplicity of conveying Biblical life applications. The two go hand in hand. But first things first, cultivate the love and the discipline for reading.

I have included Prof Cynthia Chapman’s lectures on The World of Biblical Israel, as part of my continuing studies and in support of my Bible reading. You may purchase the lectures from the Great Courses or from Amazon Prime.

Here’s an excerpt to one of Professor Chapman’s lectures.

“The story of the Bible is not written as objective history. Rather, it is the recorded memory of a conquered and exiled people determined to remember their past and pass that memory down from generation to generation. By remembering their origins and their homeland, they asserted who they were meant to be and were striving to be again. When we turn to the Bible in order to understand life in ancient Israel, we need to consider each story from at least two vantage points: the period in which the story is set and the period during which the story was preserved.”

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

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An In-Depth Look At How To Effectively Study The Bible—an avid learner’s take

One of the barriers to getting to the heart of the Bible and appreciating the truth stated in it is the way we approach to not only learning it but by how we are holding others to accept it.

In our attempt to study the Bible, we tend to use a theologian’s lens or a pastor’s preaching perspective, and then we apologize and excuse the practice by stating a caveat that we’re not a theologian or a pastor by trade, but just a person who’s attempting to understand the Bible’s text. The opposite of that would be us being only an occasional or leisure Bible reader. When we are this type of reader, we tend to draw out a passage or a verse and apply it as a universal reality.

I had a Bible Study conversation with my daughters the other day. The topic question was, ”Is there a right or a wrong way to interpret the passages in the Bible or look at the Bible as a whole?” My long-story-short answer is, YES. The follow-up question and the answers to it are as follows: ”Can we raise questions and be skeptical about the stories told in the book and if so, will that affect our individual salvation?” YES, YES, and NO. Trust me when I say that I am beyond happy that I am having this conversation with my kids especially the older ones. Conversations such as this help spark learning and trust. We need open discussions where we journey in the truth together rather than have debates where both parties are intent on proving the other wrong.

Personally, I always encourage others to look and check into the veracity of Biblical understanding, including my own. Being a woman or a man of the church does not exclude a person from being wrong, sometimes fundamentally wrong on the interpretation of passages or of how the Bible is taken.

In terms of reading, especially if you’re just starting or had been handling the study of it in a questionable manner, how do you approach the Bible? I probably will receive a flack saying this, but I’ll say it anyway. The litmus test in rightfully understanding the context of the stories told in the Bible is not love. Positing that as long as you see it from a viewpoint of love it should be okay is not just being overly simplistic, but it’s also encouraging the reader to ignore the important elements of the book. Doing so, it prevents the reader from getting the total picture. You can’t be encouraging critical and mindful thinking and also be endorsing a narrow perspective. Truth be known, the Bible also has the most horrific violent stories and narratives of all literature combined.

It’s true, some misunderstood verses are benign or have resulted in inspired life-changing changes maybe. The thing is, there are also misguided interpretations that have catastrophic repercussions.

And so I say, first thing’s first. Understand that the Bible is a collection of narratives of different genres meant to be understood as a unified literary piece of work. There’s no arguing that the Bible is literature. The easy part is that it reads like a long novel.

Although personal experience and emotional connection to a passage vary, it is imperative to note that the truth of the Scripture is never dependent on the individual’s subjective take on the verse. Hence, the premise that there is no right or wrong interpretation of the Bible’s text is flawed at best and a danger at worst. Think of the slave owners of modern history and the Westboro Baptist Church when you start justifying the merits of individual interpretations. The truth of the Bible is found within its context and it has nothing to do with any of our opinions.

Map Source: Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, & Timelines

What do we need to know or do to understand the Bible?

1. First, make time to read the Bible. And when you read, don’t rush. Don’t be in a hurry to get to the ethical or moral lesson of the passage.

2. The Bible begins and reflects the time and culture it came about. Expect to do an adjunct reading. Consider looking into linguistic and language translations—acquire basic philological appreciation.

3. When studying each book, understand the text of the literature in terms of the history, timeline, and the places that the stories took place. The truth of the Bible is narrated through this backdrop.

4. Fight the compulsion to engage the storylines in your own terms. Learn about the characters and the protocol of the time. Keep in close check the urge to engage or apply the passages in the context of the present times.

5. The task of the reader is to get into the narrative of the book in its own context, mindful that the Bible which is composed of 66 books, with over 40 authors, written in three continents in a span of nearly two thousand years, redacted and translated many times over is a unified literary unit. Consider also the rationale behind the gathering and compilation of which writings to preserve and include in the Bible.

Here Are Just A Few Important Literary Devises To Know While Studying The Stories Of The Bible:

1. Foreshadowing—an advance hint of what’s going to happen later in the story. The plan of redemption, for instance, was foreshadowed first in Genesis 22 during the Test Of Abraham.

2. Figures of Speech

3. Parallelism is the use of components in a sentence that is grammatically the same; or similar in their construction, sound, meaning, or meter.

Consider Matthew 5:13-14, ”You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.” The second point amplifies the first point. When you get the literary structure right, you’ll understand that salt and light share a parallel perspective. The context in which salt is used in this passage has nothing to do with flavor or being a preservative. Be a preservative of the earth (or the flavor of the earth) does not make sense in the storyline. This is the area where knowledge of culture, topography, and geography also play an important role in understanding the text. Salt in Jesus’ time and in the location he was preaching was used as a catalyst for starting a fire or producing sparks specifically for outside ovens. This was a type of salt gathered in the Dead Sea. The parallel resonated to Jesus’ audience and was effectively received because it speaks to the practical reality of the people in the area.

4. Recapitulation includes the repetition or restatement and a summary of main points. In the Book of Matthew, Matthew recapitulates the history of Israel in his writing of the genealogy of Jesus. Check page 1 of the summary I prepared for the study of Chapters 1-5.

5. Paradoxical Technique refers to the use of concepts or ideas that are contradictory to one another, yet, when placed together hold significant value on several levels. The uniqueness of paradoxes lies in the fact that a deeper level of meaning and significance is not revealed at first glance, but when it does crystallize, it provides astonishing insight (source: https://literary-devices.com/content/paradox/). In the Book of Matthew, The Beatitudes is a great example of this technique.

6. Symmetrical Form. The themes or main points are characterized by balance and harmony. In Genesis 1, Moses wrote about creation in a symmetrical fashion, e.g., “God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.” Genesis‬ ‭1:8‬.

7. Inclusio is a rhetorical device where the narrative ends where it begins. Bracketing is also a form of inclusio wherein sections are grouped together to convey a single thought. It’s a literary strategy to alert the reader of the important theme in the story or for the reader to examine the theme within a theme. The other significance of inclusio is to discourage us from individually handling or treating in isolation any small part of the inclusive grouping.

Example. Matthew 5-7 are an inclusio. The entire three chapters talk about the teaching of Christ on the mount. The message within the narrative is about The Way of the Kingdom—not to be interpreted as The Way to the Kingdom.

8. Understanding a literary technique whereby the author creatively distinguishes the narrative relevance of the main and the peripheral characters from the overall theme. This technique is consistent in the entire Bible. Although they are important players, you will observe that the peripheral characters are picked up and discussed in the storyline and then dropped off on the side by the author. The main characters, however, are not only important but they are highlighted as relevant and central to the narrative and main point of the Bible—the overall theme that pertains to the Plan of Salvation. For instance, in writing the stories on Abraham and Lot, Isaac and Ishmael, and Essau and Jacob, Moses will pick up significant accounts in the lives of Lot, Ishmael, and Essau and then he will drop them off to the side while he proceeds with the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob deftly unveiling their character’s relevance to the main narrative.

This literary technique of understanding the main and peripheral characters is consistent in the entire Bible. Sometimes, the reference isn’t about a person but other things or concept. Take the Sermon on the Mount for instance in the Gospel According to Matthew. Instead of teaching about the Ten Principles of the Law, Jesus in Chapter 5 focused on the commandments that had to do with human being’s relationship with other human beings. Why focus on this though? Because the transformational result of Salvation is lived through the person’s love and service of others.

When we start engaging the text on its own terms and understanding that the 66 books in the Bible written in a span of maybe two thousand years in three continents by over 40 authors are a unified literary unit, we begin learning TOGETHER and searching the truth TOGETHER. Woefully, when we insist on learning the Bible based on our own interpretation, we begin seeing each of us on the opposite side of the debate. With that, the conversation transforms into a difficult and divisive confrontation whereby you see each faction defending a doctrinal or hardline belief at a devastating cost to relationships and communal compassion.

Empirically studying the Bible encourages a joint pedagogical journey of opportunity for and between us (who most likely claim some kind of biblical expertise) and the skeptics, including the disenfranchised individuals.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.
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