The Evidence of Things Unseen- Hebrews 11:1

In this verse, we find the Bible’s “definition” of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen”. This post will focus specifically on faith as the “evidence of things unseen”. We must begin by mentioning first of all that faith is an action, that faith at its core consists of not merely believing something but doing something, this is what the “substance of things hoped for” refers to. The Greek word translated “faith” here is pistis, and it basically means “to trust”, and this trust is expressed in action. We trust in something and so we act upon it, this is faith. We must also note that faith is a basic facet of human existence, that all human beings operate by a form of faith. We all must live with a basic trust of others. For example, we drive through a green light by faith, trusting that the people going in the opposite direction will stop for the red light. We board an airplane in faith, trusting that those who build, fly, and maintain the plane know what they are doing. It is this fact of existence in this universe which the “evidence of things unseen” refers to. The Greek word translated “evidence” here is elenchos, which is used only here in the New Testament. It is a philosophical term, literally meaning to demonstrate or prove, and is used to refer to either the pointing out of error or the demonstration of truth. The Greek word translated “things” here is pragmaton, from the root pragma, referring to a “thing done, a deed”. The Greek words translated unseen are ou blepomenon, from the Greek blepo, which refers primarily to intellectual perception, not referring to seeing with the eyes but perceiving with the mind. So faith here essentially is described as an acting upon (pragmaton) that which cannot be rationally (blepomenon) or empirically (elenchos) proven. What the Bible also asserts here is that all human beings do this, which is a propostion often vehemently denied by atheist objectors to the Bible, who assert that believers operate on faith while they operate on reason, which of course is “superior”. A proper understanding of this requires a brief excursion into philosophy, the reason for which will soon be obvious. The branch of philosophy which deals with this issue is called epistemology, or literally the study of knowledge. The two factions in this area are known as empiricism and rationalism. Empiricism asserts that knowledge is limited to sense experience, and that whatever cannot be verified by the senses cannot be “known”, it is not fact but faith. Rationalism asserts that knowledge is limited to what accords with human reason, that what does not fit human logic cannot be “known”, it is not fact but faith. So which is “right”? Philosopher David Hume demonstrated many years ago (and has never really been refuted) that we cannot rationally or empirically prove everything. Even something as basic as cause and effect can’t be “proven”. We can observe that event B always follows event A, but we can’t really “prove” that A caused B, we must just assume it is so. Immanuel Kant took Hume one step further, demonstrtating that there are certain truths which must be presupposed in order to make any sense of reality. Things like the existence of space and time and the phenomenon of cause and effect must be assumed without rational or empirical proof for us to function as human beings and for our universe to operate as it does, as well as for us to operate in it. This is the point at which Hebrews 11:1 becomes relevant. Rationalist and empiricists claim they live their lives based upon “reason” and “fact” while believers base theirs on “myth” and “faith”. What Hebrews 11:1 tells us (and Hume and Kant confirm) is that all human beings live their lives based on faith. The reality is that the most committed atheist, who is so vehement about living based upon “proven fact”, does not live by “proven fact”, but by faith. They live based on an assumption about the nature of reality which cannot ever be “proven”, but must be assumed beforehand. The bottom line is that we all live our lives based on assumptions about reality which cannot be “proven” but must be assumed without proof, that we all live by the evidence of things unseen, by faith. The reality is that the Bible was right all along, for it shows us that the most committed atheist is “committed” to live by a belief system just as much as the most committed Christian, that we all live by assumtions we must make about reality, by the “evidence of things unseen”.

No Comments Christian Philosophy  //  Epistles  //  Faith  //  Nature of Man

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