What does the word ‘faith’ mean? What is true faith?

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There are many kinds of dogmas and concepts regarding “faith” and “believing”. This article considers what the word “faith” refers to in the Scriptures, especially in the New Testament. In short, the question under study is, what is true faith?

For the saints, faith did not consist of ‘believing in God’.

In the religious language of our day, the word “faith” has come to mean something like “believing in God”, that is, “believing that God exists”. For the saints, [a] “faith” was something different. On the one hand, it meant that they put their trust in God (in God the Father and his son Jesus), being assured that God is not a liar but does what he has promised. And, on the other hand, their “faith” meant that they themselves were faithful, dependable and trustworthy servants of God and his son Jesus, and that they acted accordingly, being loyal to them.

Their faith also meant that they were prepared to pay the price that following Jesus might require. Including, giving their lives, if and when it came to that.

A note: The wording “must believe that he exists” which some bible-versions have in Hebrews 11:6, in considered later in this article.

Appendix 1 has some notes on the most common “faith”-related words in the Greek text of the New Testament.

a “Saints”: In this article, that word refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier.

Abraham’s faith.

The patriarch Abraham is often mentioned as an example of a “man of faith”. – He had met the Lord in person, and so, his faith did not consist of “believing that God exists”. His faith consisted of that when the Lord promised certain things to him, he put his trust in Him and was confident that He indeed would live up to His promises. Also: Abraham was the Lord’s faithful and obedient servant, and did what He told him to do. For instance when the Lord told him to leave the town Ur and move elsewhere, he did what he was told to do. In other words, he obeyed. We read:

Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going. (HCSB, highlighting added)

Both parts of the matter of “faith” are present in the above-quoted passage: Abraham put his faith (trust) in the Lord, and also, he was the Lord’s obedient and faithful servant. Those things are not separable; they belong together.

David’s faith.

King David relied on the Lord, put his trust in him, and obeyed him. (David failed at times, but he repented and asked for God’s mercy.) Here is an English translation of a part of a song which David wrote:

Psalms 25:1 Lord, I turn to You. 2 My God, I trust in You. Do not let me be disgraced; do not let my enemies gloat over me. 3 No one who waits for You will be disgraced; those who act treacherously without cause will be disgraced. 4 Make Your ways known to me, Lord; teach me Your paths. 5 Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; I wait for You all day long. (HCSB)

Verse 2, “I trust in you”. Putting one’s trust in God is the same as faith. Regarding verse 5 and the word “wait” (Hebrew qavah) – even that meant that David put his trust in God. In another psalm, we read:

Psalms 39:7 Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You. (HCSB)

That hope was regarding the future. David knew that the Lord would keep his promises, and that in times of need He could help those who put their trust in Him.

Hebrews 11, the faithful people of old times.

The faithful people of old times knew that God is not a liar. They put their trust in him, and they obeyed him and did what he told them to do. Admitting that they were only strangers and wanderers on the earth, they acknowledged that they were looking for something else, something better. We read:

Hebrews 11:13 These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. 16 But they now desire a better place — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (HCSB)

(The articles eba049.htm and exa109.htm have some notes on the heavenly land and city which those faithful people of old as well as the saints looked forward to, putting their trust in God.)

Hebrews 11:6 and the translation ‘must believe that he exists’.

Many bible-translators have put into Hebrews 11:6 such wordings as “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists”.

“Must believe that he exists” – is that a correct translation? Let us consider this matter.

The context in Hebrews 11 mentions Abraham and Noah. Again, Abraham had met the Lord in person. So, faith was not for him a matter of “believing that He exists”. Instead, it was a matter of trusting that the Lord would do what He had promised. Regarding Noah: The Lord gave him detailed instructions in regard to how to build a huge barge (“ark”), and more, see Genesis 6:13–21. Verse 22: “And Noah did this. He did everything that God had commanded him” (HCSB). As you can see, that was not a matter of “believing that He exists”. Noah acted: He built a barge according to the Lord’s instructions; that saved him and his family.

Regarding Hebrews 11:6 – here is the Byzantine Greek wording in that verse, transcribed into the English alphabet, with phrase translations:

chôris de pisteôsBut without faithfulness [b]
adunaton euarestêsai[it is] not possible to please [God]
pisteusai gar deifor it behoves to be faithful
ton proserchomenon tô Theôhim who draws near to God
hoti estinbecause He is [faithful]
kai tois ekzêtousin autonand for those who seek Him
misthapodotês ginetaia rewarder [He] becomes.

The third word in the Greek text of that verse is the noun pistis, in the form pisteôs. That word could refer both to being faithful (for instance, being the Lord’s faithful servant), as well as to “faith” in the meaning of putting one’s trust in someone. This applies also to the verb pisteusai (pisteuô), same verse. (Again, appendix 1 has some notes on “faith”-related words in the Greek NT text.)

And so, here is a suggested translation in more fluent language:

Hebrews 11:6 But it is not possible to please God without faithfulness, for he who draws near to God must be faithful, because he is faithful, and will reward those who seek him.

In short, it appears that the apostle was simply urging the Jewish saints to be faithful towards God, since God certainly was faithful towards them.

(Here, it is assumed that it was the apostle Paul who wrote the letter to the Jewish saints, “Hebrews”.)

Hebrews 10:23.

Many bible-versions have in Hebrews 10:23 such wordings as “confession of our faith”. That could cause casual bible-readers to think that that verse refers to some “creed” or “statement of faith”.

But, those who carefully study and analyse the whole chapter, will see that it is about the two covenants, old and new. This matter is more clear in the Greek text, but even a careful comparison of a number of English translations might help an open-eyed person to see the real context. Appendix 2 has some notes on Hebrews 10:23, including the word “wavering” which some translations have in that verse, but here are some shorter notes:

In the Greek text of verse 23, we find the word homologia. Some bible-translators have rendered it as “confession” or “profession”, but the apostle Paul was not talking about churches or their creeds or “confessions”. It is obvious that in that passage, the old Greek noun homologia is used in its literal meaning, “agreement”, “contract”. In other words: Paul was reminding the saints about their betrothal to Jesus. He told them to faithfully hold fast to their part in that agreement – that betrothal, which was a binding contract regarding a marriage-like relationship.

Again, appendix 2 has some notes on Hebrews 10:23. Appendix 3 has more on the word homologia. That appendix has also some notes on Hebrews 10:25.

For the saints, faith also meant that they were to be faithful to the Lord, without drawing back.

In Hebrews 10:38, many bible-versions have such wordings as “the just shall live by faith”. Some versions add the note that the translation could also be “faithfulness”.

So, what was the apostle really saying? And also: In that same verse we find a warning that those who “drew back” would have problems – what did that mean and refer to?

Hebrews 10:38, “just” and “faith” – in the Greek text, the corresponding words are dikaios and pistis (pisteôs). For instance the 1769 King James version translates the adjective dikaios mostly as “righteous” or “just”. Regarding the noun pistis – it was used also in the meaning “faithfulness” (being trustworthy, dependable), and not only “faith” (trust). See appendix 1.

It appears that the apostle was quoting this passage:

Habakkuk 2:4 “Look at the proud person. He is not right in himself. But the righteous person will live because of his faithfulness. (GWV)

In the Hebrew text, the last word in that verse is emuwnah which referred to faithfulness. For instance the KJV1769 and NASB95 translate that word mostly as “faithfulness”.

And so, here is a suggested translation of Hebrews 10:38 where Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted:

Hebrews 10:38 And the righteous shall live by faithfulness, but if he draws back, my soul has no delight in him.

Let us also consider verse 36.

Hebrews 10:36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. (NASB95)

The point, regarding verse 38: It was not a matter of having a “feeling of faith”. The apostle Paul reminded the saints he was writing to, that they had to be faithful to God and continue doing his will, living righteous lives.

It is obvious that the words “if he draws back” in verse 38 refer to people who were not faithful to the Lord. In the end, their actions would lead to the loss of the promised reward (salvation, and more).

True faith includes good works.

In James’ epistle, we find these verses:

James 2:20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? […] 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (NKJV)

Another translation:

James 2:20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? […] 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. (NLT04)

More in the context:

James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (NKJV)

So, true faith (faithfulness towards God) goes hand in hand with love, including good works. Love towards God, and also love towards one’s “neighbours” (one’s fellow humans). As you can see, James was talking about good works, and not about “works of the Law”. Well, he mentioned even a “law” (rule, principle) – a “royal law”, verse 8:

James 2:8 If you really carry out the royal law prescribed in Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. (HCSB)

See also Matthew 22:39 and 25:34–40.

Again, true faith includes love towards others, which in its turn leads to good works.

The article ega086.htm studies the matter of righteousness, including the clear connection between righteousness and good works. See also the articles eba117.htm and ema076.htm.

True faith must not and cannot be double-minded.

A casual bible-reader might come to think that the words “ask in faith, nothing wavering” in James 1:6–8 mean that “one must not doubt” when one prays – that one must have a “feeling of faith”. But, let us take a closer look at that passage and matter.

James 1:6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. 8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. (AKJV)

Verse 6: “Wavering” is in the Greek text diakrinomenos (diakrinô). Verse 8, “double minded” – the Greek text has dipsuchos. In those old Greek words, the prefixes dia- and di- mean “two”. In this case, both words refer to having two (different) views or opinions, at the same time.

Let us consider an event in the days of Elijah. At that time, the Israelites “wavered”. That is, they were double-minded. To a certain degree, they “served” the Lord, but at the same time, they worshipped the idol Baal. We read:

1 Kings 18:21 Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent. (NLT04, highlighting added)

Those people were “wavering”, double-minded. They were not whole-heartedly committed to the Lord. In short, they “sat on the fence” – they paid some respect to the Lord, but at the same time, they worshipped Baal.

The word dipsuchos which occurs in the Greek text of the above-quoted James 1:8, is found in only two places in the NT. Here is the other passage, in that same letter:

James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded [dipsuchos]. 9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (AKJV, comment added)

As verses 7–8 show, one must choose sides. The same as in 1 Kings 18:21, see above. That is also what the earlier quoted James 1:6–8 refers to. It is obvious that in the case of James 1:6, the word diakrinomenos in the Greek text refers to “being undecided”, and that the word pistis in that same verse refers to faithfulness. – The saints had to choose; they could not “sit on the fence” and serve two masters. They had to be faithful to the Lord, being whole-heartedly committed to him. Only then could they count on their requests to God being heard (James 1:6–7).

Regarding the phrase ‘according to your faith’.

Also Matthew 9:22 and 29 will be considered here, but let us first read Matthew 8:5–13 which shows that even a Roman military commander was helped, when he put his trust in Jesus.

Matthew 8:5 And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came to him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 And saying, Lord, my servant lies at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7 And Jesus said to him, I will come and heal him. 8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it. 10 When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, Truly I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 11 And I say to you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13 And Jesus said to the centurion, Go your way; and as you have believed, so be it done to you. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (AKJV)

Verse 13, “as you have believed” – did that mean “according to the amount of your faith”, the way that expression would be understood in our day? Perhaps not. It appears that the meaning is that that man was helped, since he had put his trust in Jesus.

In the next chapter, the AKJV has the wording “your faith has made you whole”:

Matthew 9:21 For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. 22 But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; your faith has made you whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. (AKJV)

“Your faith has made you whole” – let us consider this. Was that woman healed by her own “faith”? No, it was Jesus’ power that healed her. It was because she put her trust in Jesus, that she was helped and healed.

More, in regard to the phrase “according to your faith”:

Matthew 9:28 And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus said to them, Believe you that I am able to do this? They said to him, Yes, Lord. 29 Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it to you. (AKJV)

Concerning Jesus’ question “do you believe”, verse 28: The Greek text has the verb pisteuô which primarily meant “to think to be true”, “to be persuaded of”, “to credit”, “to place confidence in”. Those blind men trusted that Jesus could heal them. It was right for them to put their trust in him: They received sight to their eyes. That had nothing to do with “religious faith” of the kind that many people talk about today.

‘Be not afraid, only believe’, Mark 5:36.

Mark 5:21 And when Jesus was passed over again by ship to the other side, much people gathered to him: and he was near to the sea. 22 And, behold, there comes one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet, 23 And sought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lies at the point of death: I pray you, come and lay your hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live. […] 35 While he yet spoke, there came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house certain which said, Your daughter is dead: why trouble you the Master any further? 36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he said to the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe. (AKJV)

“Believe”? Jairus was a Jew. What would such concepts as “faith” and “believing”, as they are used and understood today, have meant to a Jew of those days? The answer: Most probably nothing. The NLT96 has a clearer translation of verse 36:

Mark 5:36 But Jesus ignored their comments and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just trust me.” (NLT96)

Mark 6:6, ‘and he marveled because of their unbelief’.

Then there is this passage:

Mark 6:1 And he went out from there, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow[ed] him. 2 And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From where has this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given to him, that even such mighty works are worked by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. 4 But Jesus, said to them, A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. 5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands on a few sick folk, and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching. (AKJV)

Verse 6 – “unbelief”. Some translators have even made it to “lack of faith”. But, if one tried to apply such a concept to the context of the Jewish society of those days, one would have problems. So, really what does verse 6 mean?

The Greek text has apistia. How should that word be interpreted and translated, in this case? It had several different uses and meanings. “Distrust” was among them, of course. Also, if one had apistia pros heauton, then one suffered of lack of self-confidence (lack of trust in oneself). But, there is more to this. ‘Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott includes “discrediting” among the different ways to translate the word apistia.

In the case of Mark 6:6, the word apistia appears to refer to the fact that the people of Jesus’ own home area discredited him. They rejected him as “the carpenter, the son of Mary” (verse 3). Apparently they felt, “he cannot be anything special”, or, “he cannot be the Messiah.

So, it appears that “lack of faith” was not the problem. The problem was that those people, despite the mighty works which they had seen or heard about, discredited and rejected Jesus, who in fact was the Messiah.

Where did the saints’ faith take them?

In the first part of this article, it was noted that the saints’ faith did not consist of having a “feeling of faith” or “believing that God exists”. Instead, their “faith” consisted of that they put their trust in God and his son Jesus. They were convinced (they trusted) that God and his son Jesus would fulfil their promises. And, there was also another part to that matter: They were to be faithful, trustworthy and obedient servants of God.

But, where did that all take those people? For, we know that after Jesus ascension, things went bad for the disciples. During the following years, many of them were persecuted and even imprisoned, and some of them were killed. So, exactly what was there for them to look forward to, in faith (trust)?

Earlier, it was noted that in Hebrews 11, which some have called “the faith chapter”, it is reasonable to assume that the Greek text of verse 6 should be interpreted this way:

Hebrews 11:6 But it is not possible to please God without faithfulness, for he who draws near to God must be faithful, because he is faithful, and will reward those who seek him.

So, there was a reward for the faithful ones. This had to do with the promises connected to the New Covenant (the better promises of Hebrews 8:6). The apostle Paul wrote to the Jewish saints, regarding those who

“inherit the promises through faith and perseverance” (Hebrews 6:12, HCSB).

And, what was that reward, and those promises? The Bible does not spell this out in detail, but a closer study of the Scriptures shows that among other things, the promises included a land in Heaven. The one which is mentioned in that same chapter:

Hebrews 11:16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (NLT04)

Keeping this in mind, let us consider something Jesus said to his apostles, the night before he was crucified.

John 14:1 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. (NLT04, highlighting added)

(A note: Some translations have “you believe in God, believe also in me”, but as you can see, it was not a matter of the apostles “believing that Jesus exists”. They knew him, and he was right there with them, at the table.)

And, what was that trust all about? Trust – regarding what? Again, where did the saints’ faith take them? Well, let us read the two following verses:

John 14:2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. (NLT04)

When Jesus spoke those words, he was about to be captured and then killed. But, he had told his disciples that that would not be the end of the story. He had told them that he would be resurrected, and here he told them that he would then go to Heaven, and that he would prepare for them a place there, and that he would after this come back and take them there. To Heaven. That is where the saints’ faith took them.

(There was more to the promises and the reward, but already this was truly much.)

The article eba049.htm studies what the Scriptures say about Heaven. The article exa109.htm considers a related matter.

See also the “recommended reading” section, after the appendixes below.

Appendix 1 – Some notes on ‘faith’-related words in the Greek text of the New Testament.

Here are some of the relevant words in the Greek NT text, in regard to the matter of “faith”:

Examples of other, similar words that were used in old Greek but which do not appear in the New Testament: The verb antipisteuô, “to trust in return”; the adjective autopistos, “credible in itself”; the adjective axiopistos, “trustworthy”, the verb duspisteô, “to mistrust”.

A note: Many bible-versions translate several different Greek words as “believe”. Thus, when the NT part of for instance the 1769 King James version has “believe” or “believing”, the Greek text can have, not only pisteuô, apisteô, pistis, pistos or apistos but also such words as plêrophoreô (in the meaning “to be fully assured”), peithô (in the meaning “to be persuaded”) and apeitheô (“not allowing oneself to be persuaded”).

In short: In the Greek NT text, the most relevant words in this connection have to do with trusting someone or being trustworthy, relying on someone or being reliable, being faithful or considering someone else to be faithful, and being genuine and true or considering something or someone to be that.

Appendix 2 – Regarding Hebrews 10:25, and Hebrews 10:23 and the word ‘wavering’.

A note, concerning the old Greek words mentioned here and elsewhere in this article: It is important to realise that “biblical” Greek-English lexicons are limited, biased and all too often even severely misleading. Those who can read Greek letters, can instead use the less biased and more detailed ‘Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott, or their more extensive ‘Greek-English Lexicon’. (The article esa017.htm has some notes on those lexicons, including online variants.)

Regarding Hebrews 10 – a closer study of that chapter shows that the apostle was discussing the matter of the two covenants, old and new – the New Covenant versus the Old Covenant. This is more clear in the Greek text, but even a careful comparison of a number of different English translations can help the careful reader to see this.

But, in many bible-versions, several passages in that chapter are translated in in confusing ways. Some preachers have used such translations, for making people think that the meaning is that they must put their faith in the preacher’s church and come to its “worship-services”, every week.

First, regarding Hebrews 10:25.

A note: The meaning of Hebrews 10:25 is clarified here, for the reason that that makes verse 23 easier to understand.

Many bible-versions have in Hebrews 10:25 such wordings as “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together”. That might cause casual bible-readers to think that the apostle was talking about “going to church”. But, he was talking about the time when the saints were to be gathered and taken up to Jesus. Clarification:

The relevant word in the Greek text of Hebrews 10:25 is the noun episunagôgê whose primary meaning was “gathering up” and “carrying away”. The word episunagôgê in that verse refers to the event which is mentioned in the other passage where that word occurs in the Greek NT text – 2 Thessalonians 2:1.

Hebrews 10:25 not turning our backs on our [coming] gathering [episunagôgê], as some do, but admonishing one another. And so much the more, as you see that day approaching. (BPT)

2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now, we entreat you brothers, concerning the coming of our lord Jesus the Messiah, and our gathering together [episunagôgê] to him, 2 that you will not be easily troubled in mind, neither by spirit nor by speech or by letter, as if from us, alleging that the day of the Messiah has come. […] (BPT)

In short: Both passages refer to the day when the angels came and took the saints up to Jesus. Hebrews 10:25 has nothing to do with churches.

Regarding Hebrews 10:23 and the word ‘wavering’.

Several things in Hebrews 10 refer to the fact that the saints were a part of Jesus’ Bride. They had been betrothed to Jesus, and so, they had to be faithful to Him. Keeping this in mind, let us now take a closer look at Hebrews 10:23.

Those who are familiar with the Old Testament and then study the wider context in Hebrews 10, can see that the apostle was making an analogy, between the events around the making of the Old Covenant by Mount Sinai, and the situation of the saints whom he was writing to, in connection with the New Covenant.

Some translators have put into Hebrews 10:23 such phrases as “let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering”. Wordings of that kind could cause casual bible-readers to think of a “statement of faith” created by some church. But, the apostle was not talking about churches or their creeds. The context was the New Covenant, and in connection with it, the saints’ betrothal to Jesus. That meant that they had to be faithful to Jesus.

In Hebrews 10:23, where some translations have “profession”, the Greek text has the noun homologia. In old Greek, its primary meaning was “agreement”, “contract”. (There is more on this, in appendix 3, below). In the case of Hebrews 10:23, the word homologia refers to the saints’ betrothal to Jesus. They had to hold fast to that contract, “without wavering” – they had to remain faithful to Jesus.

Here is a suggested translation of the Greek text of Hebrews 10:23, along with some of the surrounding verses:

Hebrews 10:22 let us then draw near, [c] with a sincere heart, in total faithfulness, [d] having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 We should hold fast to [our part in] the agreement, [e] in an unwavering expectation, [f] because, he who gave [us] the promise is faithful. 24 And we should keep an eye on one another, provoking unto love and to good works; 25 not turning our back on our [coming] gathering [g] (as some do), but admonishing one another: And so much the more, as you see that day [h] approaching.

(Please note that in the above-quoted passage, the words “us”, “our” and “we” refer to the saints, people who lived here on Earth in the first century.)

Further down, there are more details on the translation above, but first, some notes.

c Verse 22, “draw near” – when the Old Covenant was made, the Israelites drew near Mount Sinai. Here, the apostle made an analogy. He spoke about the celebration of the New Covenant (its “wedding feast”). Compare this with Hebrews 12:18–28 where we find a similar analogy, including a note on the heavenly mountain which the saints had “drawn near”. (The article eba049.htm has more on Hebrews 12:18–28.)

d Verse 22, “in total faithfulness” – the ASV, DR1899, EngRV and WEB have “fulness of faith”, many have “full assurance of faith”. Either the meaning is that those who “drew near” had to be faithful, or that they could do that in “full assurance”. (Regarding the phrase “draw near”, see note [c], above.)

e Verse 23, “agreement”: The Greek text has homologia. It did not mean “confession” or “profession” as some have made it to. Here, the noun homologia refers to an “agreement”, “contract” – which is to say, the saints’ betrothal to Jesus. (Again, appendix 3 has more on that word.)

f Verse 23, “expectation”: The Greek text has elpis which meant “hope”, “expectation” (not “faith” as some have made it to).

g Verse 25, “gathering”: The word in the Greek text is episunagôgê which primarily referred to “gathering up” or “carrying away”. That word occurs in only two NT passages, here and in 2 Thessalonians 2:1. Both verses refer to the day when the saints were gathered and taken up to Jesus, who then took them to the wedding feast. See also the next note, below.

h Verse 25, “that day”, Greek tên hêmeran: The day when the saints then were gathered and taken up to Jesus, the same day and event which is mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:1–2 where it is called he hêmera tou Christou, “the day of the Messiah” (“the day of the Anointed”).

More on the word elpis in the Greek text of Hebrews 10:23: It refers to “expectation”. It is obvious that the elpis which the saints were to have, meant that they were to be looking forward to and eagerly awaiting “that day” (verse 25; in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 called “the day of the Messiah”) – that is, the day when Jesus then came for them and took them to the wedding feast.

Clarification: The word elpis occurs around 50 times in the Greek text of the New Testament. In some bible-versions, it is always rendered as “hope”, except for Hebrews 10:23 where the translators have for some reason made it to “faith”. But, elpis did not mean “faith”, and even the translation “hope” can be slightly misleading. The old Greek noun elpis referred to expectation or anticipation of things (either good or bad). The related verb elpizô (elpô, elpomai) meant “to expect”.

The Greek text of verse 23 contains even the word pistos, used in the meaning “faithful”. Again, this was connected to the fact that God the Father had betrothed the saints to his son Jesus. That betrothal was a binding contract. This meant that the saints had to be faithful to Jesus. It appears that Paul’s meaning was, in effect, “God who betrothed us to his son Jesus, is faithful” [and will also marry us to him, just as he promised], “so, let us also be faithful”. Or, possibly, “Jesus the Bridegroom whom we are betrothed to, is certainly faithful, so, let us then also be faithful [on our part]”.

Appendix 3 – Regarding the word homologia in the Greek text of Hebrews 10:23.

In Hebrews 10:23, many bible-translators have rendered the old Greek word homologia as “profession” or “confession”. They have phrased even other things in that chapter in such a manner that casual bible-readers could come to think that the apostle was talking about some “church” and its “creed”. But, he was talking about the saints’ relationship with Jesus – their betrothal to him. Clarification:

The primary meaning of the noun homologia was “agreement”, “contract” (see ‘Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott). Some details:

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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → esa095.htm

What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → eba049.htm

Hebrews 4:9, the sabbatismos or rest which the saints were to enter – a clarification of its actual nature. → exa109.htm

What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → ega086.htm

Religion must not be skin-deep only. Believers must take the matters of faith seriously. → eba117.htm

How the saints took care of the elderly and the poor. → ema076.htm

How to study the Bible in a deeper way. → esa017.htm

What happened to the saints? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → ega048.htm

What does the word “doctrine” really mean? Likewise, what is the meaning of the terms “dogma”, “creed” and “tenet”? → esa087.htm

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