Thursday, August 8, 2013

A brief guide to Hebrews, 11:5-7

By Faith Enoch
Enoch is an obscure biblical character that stands out in Genesis 5:18-24 (cf. 1 Chr. 1:3; Lk. 3:37).  He is also quoted in a strange passage in Jude 14, but Hebrews does not rely on the same sources as Jude for stories about Enoch.  Enoch is most well known for a strange event: that he “was taken up so that he should not see death.”  The old King James renders it rather literally, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” The word metatithemi (taken up or translated) has the meaning of being transferred or put in another place, thus implying from earth to heaven.  He walked with God, and as a reward for a life lived by faith, Enoch didn’t die (for the differences between “walked” and “pleased” see footnote).
Enoch’s life of faith was rewarded by presence with God.  Enoch is the only person in Genesis 5 who is not simply mentioned as being born, having an heir and then dying.  This points to the reality that God was providing hope for the faithful beyond the grave.  This naturally transitions into 11:6 where it says, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”  It is not because someone is righteous that God is pleased with them, but because they trust in God by faith he is pleased.  The relationship with him becomes the source and motive for their personal righteousness by his grace through faith.  But where some may go wrong here is thinking that belief in God in general is sufficient.  This is inconsistent with Hebrews as a whole and the particulars of this verse.  One must believe in the God of the Bible as he has revealed himself through Christ (Heb. 1:3).  It is faith in this God that results in salvation for those who diligently seek him.
By Faith Noah
Noah is a much more familiar person in scripture (cf. Gen. 5:28-9:27; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:5).  Verse 11:7 harks back to 11:1, about believing in the unseen, with Noah’s faith that a flood was coming.  He took God at his word and made preparations despite how ridiculous it seemed to his contemporaries.  He feared God and became an heir of righteousness that comes by faith.  The language of being an heir of righteousness has been used in Hebrews before concerning Jesus as the heir of all things (1:2).  Like the other people mentioned so far, Genesis makes no mention of Noah’s faith, but merely that he found favor in God’s eyes and walked with God.  Noah’s building of the ark both reveals the condemnation of the world and his faith in God’s word.  Therefore, the flood becomes a symbol of the eternal judgment of the wicked and the salvation of the righteous (cf. 1 Pet. 3:20).  Like Abel and Enoch, Noah’s faith and righteousness are inseparable.  It is easy to look back into the OT stories and conclude God was pleased with some people because they were good.  But God was pleased with them because they had faith in him and they acted in accordance with that faith.  Their actions demonstrated their righteousness.
1 Hebrews consistently quotes Septuagint (LXX).  The LXX is a Greek translation of the Old Testament commonly used in the first century.  It has a tendency to make the language less anthropomorphic and exalting the transcendence of God.  So in this case the anthropomorphic language of “walking with God” is translated from the original Hebrew to the Greek as “having pleased God.”

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