I think that chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews is one of my favorite chapters in all the Bible. Now that I have learned–or perhaps I should say, now that I am learning–to read the Bible without bias, I am seeing things that I never saw before. Simply letting the Bible mean what it says is such a refreshing and encouraging enterprise.
Paul starts off by giving us a definition of what faith is. People frequently confuse faith with belief, thinking the two terms are synonymous. Of course we know they are not, because James speaks of demons believing and shuddering. Demons believe, but they do not have faith. Paul then goes on to give us a practical example of the difference between belief and faith. He compares Abel with Cain. There can be no doubt that Cain believed in God. The Bible shows that he actually talked with God, and God with him. Yet he lacked faith. It has been suggested that faith is belief not in the existence of God, but in the character of God. Paul says, “he that approaches God must believe…that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” By faith we “know” that God will do what he says, and we act in accordance with this. Faith then moves us to action, to obedience. (Hebrews 11:6)
Throughout the chapter, Paul gives an extensive list of examples of faith from before his time. In the opening verse of the next chapter he refers to these ones as a great cloud of witnesses surrounding Christians. We have been taught that pre-Christian men of faith are not granted the prize of heavenly life. However, reading this without our bias-colored glasses on, we find a very different picture being presented.
Verse 4 says that by his faith “Abel had witness borne to him that he was righteous”. Verse 7 says that Noah “became an heir of the righteousness that is according to faith.” If you are an heir, you inherit from a father. Noah would inherit righteousness just like Christians who die faithful. So how could we imagine him being resurrected still imperfect, having to labor for another thousand years, and then being declared righteous only after passing a final test? Based on that, he would not be an heir to anything upon his resurrection, because an heir is guaranteed the inheritance and does not have to work toward it.
Verse 10 speaks of Abraham “awaiting the city having real foundations”. Paul is referring to the New Jerusalem. Abraham couldn’t have known about the New Jerusalem. In fact he wouldn’t have known about the old one either, but he was awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises though he did not know what form they would take. Paul did know however, and so tells us. Anointed Christians are also “awaiting the city having real foundations.” There is no difference in our hope from that of Abraham, except that we have a clearer picture of it than he did.
Verse 16 refers to Abraham and all the aforementioned men and women of faith as “reaching out for a better place…one belonging to heaven”, and it concludes by stating, “he has made a city ready for them.” Again we see the equivalency between the hope of Christians and that of Abraham.
Verse 26 speaks of Moses esteeming “the reproach of the Christ [anointed one] as riches greater than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked intently toward the payment of the reward.” Anointed Christians must also accept the reproach of the Christ if they are to get the payment of the reward. Same reproach; same payment. (Matthew 10:38; Luke 22:28)
In verse 35 Paul speaks of men willing to die faithful so that they might ”attain a better resurrection.” Use of the comparison modifier “better” indicates that there must be at least two resurrections, one better than the other. The Bible speaks of two resurrections in a number of places. Anointed Christians have the better one, and it appears that this is what the faithful men of old were reaching out for.
This verse makes no sense if we consider it in light of our official position. Noah, Abraham, and Moses are resurrected the same as everyone else: imperfect, and required to strive for our thousand years to achieve perfection, only to then pass through a final test to see whether or not they can continue living eternally. How is that a ‘better’ resurrection? Better than what?
Paul concludes the chapter with these verses:
(Hebrews 11:39, 40) And yet all these, although they had witness borne to them through their faith, did not get the [fulfillment of the] promise, 40 as God foresaw something better for us, in order that they might not be made perfect apart from us.
The “something better” that God foresaw for Christians was not a better reward because Paul groups them altogether in the final phrase “that they might not be made perfect apart from us”. The perfection that he refers to is the same perfection that Jesus achieved. (Hebrews 5:8, 9) Anointed Christians will follow their exemplar and through faith will be made complete and given immortality along with their brother, Jesus. The great cloud of witnesses Paul refers to is made perfect together with Christians, not apart from them. Therefore, the “something better” he is referring to must be the aforementioned “fulfillment of the promise”. Faithful servants of old had no idea what form the reward would take or how the promise would be fulfilled. Their faith did not depend on the details, but only that Jehovah would not fail to reward them.
Paul opens the next chapter with these words: “So, then, because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us…” How could he compare anointed Christians with these witnesses and suggest that they were surrounding them if he did not consider them to be on a par with those he was writing to? (Hebrews 12:1)
Can a simple, unbiased reading of these verses lead us to any other conclusion other than these faithful men and women of old will receive the same reward anointed Christians receive? But there is more that contradicts our official teaching.
(Hebrews 12:7, 8) . . .God is dealing with YOU as with sons. For what son is he that a father does not discipline? 8 But if YOU are without the discipline of which all have become partakers, YOU are really illegitimate children, and not sons.
If Jehovah does not discipline us, then we are illegitimate and not sons. The publications often speak about how Jehovah disciplines us. Therefore, we must be his sons. It is true that a loving father will discipline his children. However, a man does not discipline his friends. Yet we are taught that we are not his sons but his friends. There is nothing in the Bible about God disciplining his friends. These two verses of Hebrews make no sense if we continue to hold to the idea that millions of Christians are not gods sons but only his friends.
Another point I thought was interesting was the use of “publicly declared” in verse 13. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not go door-to-door, and yet they made public declaration that “they were strangers and temporary residences in the land”. Perhaps we need to expand our definition of what public declaration entails.
It is both fascinating and dismaying to see how the simply stated teachings from the word of God have been twisted to shore up doctrines of men.