Hebrews 11:1 is the one verse in the Bible that best defines faith. It is also one of the more difficult passages in the New Testament to translate. One of the reasons for this difficulty is the use of the Greek word ‘hupostasis’. The writer of Hebrews states that, “Faith is the ‘hupostasis’ of things hoped for…” As you can see, the translation of this word is critical to the understanding of this verse and to the overall understanding of faith. Let us look at how various translators have rendered this verse:
Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (New Living Translation)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (New American Standard Bible – NASB)
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (King James Version – KJV and New King James Version – NKJV)
Now faith is the title-deed of things hoped for, the conviction of things which are not being seen. (Wuest – The New Testament: An Expanded Translation)
Confidence, Assurance, Substance, and Title-deed – what kind of word is this that can be translated with such diverse meanings? Look at the following attempts to define ‘hupostasis’ in English, and how they relate to these four meanings.
Strong’s Concordance #5287 – ὑπόστασις “upostasi” hupostasis; gen. hupostaseos , fem. noun from huphstemi (n.f.), to place or set under. In general, that which underlies the apparent, hence, reality, essence, substance; that which is the basis of something, hence, assurance guarantee, confidence (with the ob. sense).
The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon – (1) a setting or placing under, thing put under, substructure, foundation, (2) that which has foundation, is firm , that which has actual existence (a substance, real being), the substantial quality, nature, of a person or thing, the steadfastness of mind, firmness, courage, resolution (confidence, firm trust, assurance)
Vine’s Expository Dictionary – hupostasis lit., “a standing under, support” (hupo, “under,” histemi, “to stand”), hence, an “assurance,” is so rendered in Heb_11:1, RV, for AV, “substance.” In Hebrews 1:3, of Christ as “the very image” of God’s “substance;” here the word has the meaning of the real nature of that to which reference is made in contrast to the outward manifestation (see the preceding clause); it speaks of the Divine essence of God existent and expressed in the revelation of His Son. The AV, “person” is an anachronism; the word was not so rendered till the 4th cent. Most of the earlier Eng. versions have “substance.” In Hebrews 11:1 it has the meaning of “confidence, assurance” (RV), marg., “the giving substance to,” AV, “substance,” something that could not equally be expressed by elpis, “hope.” It also may signify a title-deed, as giving a guarantee, or reality.
Word Pictures in the New Testament – A.T. Robertson, 5:418, states: “Hypostasis is a very common word from Aristotle on and comes from huphistemi, what stands under anything (a building, a contract, a promise).”
Wuest Word Studies – K. S. Wuest – Vincent (Word Studies In The New Testament – M. R. Vincent) says, “It is important that the preliminary definition be clearly understood, since the following examples illustrate it. The key is furnished by verse 27 , as seeing him who is invisible. Faith apprehends as a real fact what is not revealed to the senses. It rests on that fact, acts upon it, and is upheld by it in the face of all that seems to contradict it. Faith is real seeing.” The word “substance” deserves careful treatment. It is hupostasis, made up of stasis “to stand,” and hupo “under,” thus “that which stands under, a foundation.” Thus, it speaks of the ground on which one builds a hope.
The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament – Moulton & Milligan – reports its use as a legal term. They say that it stands for “the whole body of documents bearing on the ownership of a person’s property, deposited in archives, and forming the evidence of ownership.” They suggest the translation, “Faith is the title-deed of things hoped for.” The Holy Spirit energized act of faith which a believer exercises in the Lord Jesus is the title-deed which God puts in his hand, guaranteeing to him the possession of the thing for which he trusted Him. In the case of this first-century Jew, his act of faith in Messiah as High Priest would be the title-deed which God would give him, guaranteeing to him the possession of the salvation for which he trusted God. Thus, he would have assurance.
In other words, “that which underlies what is apparent.” Amplified a bit further, it is that which, though perhaps unseen, exists beneath and supports what is visible. It then, has the sense of a foundation. Even as the foundation of a building is unseen, and the building above ground is visible, the foundation – the hupostasis – is nonetheless real, supporting the building. Hupostasis is the unseen support of what is standing in clear view.
The Greek word ‘hupostasis’ is used five times in the New Testament:
2 Corinthians 9:4 …otherwise if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we–not to speak of you–will be put to shame by this confidence. (New American Standard Bible)
2 Corinthians 11:17 What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. (New American Standard Bible)
Hebrews 1:3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (New American Standard Bible)
Hebrews 3:14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, (New American Standard Bible)
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (New American Standard Bible)
Next, let us review each of the various translated words for hupostasis.
The word ‘confidence’ is a poor translation choice. If the simple concept of confidence was the intended meaning, there were at least four other Greek words more suitable for the writer to use:
Strong’s #3954 ‘parrhsia’ – used 31 times in the N.T., 4 times in Hebrews. It is translated: confidence, boldness, and boldly.
Strong’s #3982 ‘peiqw’ – used 52 times in the N.T., 4 times in Hebrews. It is translated: confidence, persuaded, convinced, confident, obey, and trust.
Strong’s #4006 ‘pepoiqhsi’ – used 6 times in the N.T. It is translated: confidence
Strong’s #2292 ‘qarrew’ – used 6 times in the N.T., one time in Hebrews. It is translated: confidently, good courage, bold, and boldly.
What about the two uses in 2 Corinthians? I suggest the following words in place of the word ‘confidence.’
2 Corinthians 9:4 “…otherwise if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we–not to speak of you–will be put to shame by this (reality).” The whole context of the passage is the exhortation to the Corinthians to let down Paul in his boasting of them. In other words, if the Macedonians come and see them unprepared, ‘the reality’ would put Paul, and them, to shame. Confidence has nothing to do with it.
2 Corinthians 11:17 What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this (example) of boasting. Paul is talking about the ‘reality or essence’ of his actual boasting, and not his ‘confidence’ of boasting.
Faith exudes confidence but it is not based on mere confidence. We have confidence because of faith, not faith because of confidence.
The word ‘assurance’ is a better translation choice. Faith is an assurance by God of our hopes. In this context, the word ‘assurance’ works well. It conveys a certain something from God that stands beneath, and supports, our hopes, transforming them into a reality.
Word Studies In The New Testament – M. R. Vincent – Substance (upostasiv). See on Hebrews 1:3 and 3:14. On the whole, the Rev. assurance gives the true meaning. The definition has a scholastic and philosophic quality, as might be expected from a pupil of the Alexandrian schools. The meaning substance, real being, given by A.V., Vulg., and many earlier interpreters, suggests the true sense, but is philosophically inaccurate. Substance, as used by these translators, is substantial nature; the real nature of a thing which underlies and supports its outward form or properties. In this sense, it is very appropriate in Hebrews 1:3, in describing the nature of the Son as the image or impress of God’s essential being: but in this sense, it is improperly applied to faith, which is an act of the moral intelligence directed at an object; or a condition, which sustains a certain relation to the object. It cannot be said that faith is substantial being. It apprehends reality: it is that to which the unseen objects of hope become real and substantial. Assurance gives the true idea. It is the firm grasp of faith on unseen fact.
I agree with Vincent in his discussion of ‘substance.’ I disagree however, with faith being defined as ‘an act of the moral intelligence directed at an object.’ Faith is not an act of anything; it is a definite ‘something’ from God. Only when we first have this ‘something’ can we then ‘act’ accordingly. Faith may not be a ‘substantial being’ but it is a ‘substantial something,’ having the ability to apprehend the reality of unseen objects of hope. If the word ‘assurance’ does that for you, good, it does not for me. Assurance does not convey the full tangibility of the word.
The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament – Spiros Zodhiates, – Hupostasis, the word translated “substance,” means “that which underlies the apparent; that which is the basis of something, hence, assurance, guarantee and confidence.” The English “substance” is built from a prefix and a root which together mean “that which stands under.” Webster’s defines it as “the real or essential part or element of anything; essence, reality, or basic matter.” It is very similar in meaning to hupostasis.
Substance in this sense is a good translation option; it conveys the concreteness, or tangibility, of hupostasis. By tangibility I do not mean to say that faith is an actual spiritual substance or force that God allows us to wield. As enjoyable as it may be to imagine, faith is not some spiritual tractor beam drawing our hopes to us. The trouble with the word ‘substance,’ however, is that we today do not have a common appreciation for its exact meaning. In all the years of reading my King James Bible, I never fully appreciated the description of faith in Hebrews 11:1, as being the ‘sub’ ‘stance’ of things hoped for. The one thing it did do, was to make me wonder how the KJV word ‘substance’ was rendered ‘assurance’ in my current NASB Bible.
Kenneth Wuest has the following to say about hupostasis in Hebrews 11:1 in his Wuest Word Studies
The Title-Deed to Answered Prayer – “FAITH is the substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1 ). The Greek word translated “substance” had a technical meaning in the business world of the first century. It referred to one’s property or effects. It was used in such expressions as “Out of this estate I declare that my husband owes me,” or, “more land than I actually possess,” the italicized words being the translation of the word. It was also used to refer to “the whole body of documents bearing on the ownership of a person’s property, deposited in the archives, and forming the evidence of ownership.” Moulton and Milligan in their “Vocabulary of the Greek Testament” say of these uses, “These varied uses are at first sight somewhat perplexing, but in all the cases there is the same central idea of something that underlies visible conditions and guarantees a future possession.” Thus, they translate “Faith is the title-deed of things hoped for.”
To substantiate this usage, there is in “Living Yesterdays,” a delightful brochure by H. R. Minn, the story of a woman named Dionysia. She is described as “a woman of set jaw and grim determination.” It seems that she had lost a case in a local court over a piece of land to which she laid claim. Not satisfied with the decision of a lower court, she determined to take her case to a higher court in Alexandria. She sent her slave to that city, with the legal documents safely encased in a stone box. On the way, the slave lost his life in a fire, which destroyed the inn where he had put up for the night. For 2,000 years, the sands of the desert covered the ruins of the inn, the charred bones of the slave, and the stone box.
Archaeologists have recently uncovered these remains. In the box, they found the legal documents. They read the note, which this woman had sent to the judge in Alexandria, “In order that my lord the judge may know that my appeal is just, I attach my hupostasis.” That which was attached to this note, she designated by the Greek word translated “substance” in Heb. 11:1. The attached document was translated and found to be the title-deed to the piece of land, which she claimed as her own possession, the evidence of her ownership.
What a flood of light is thrown upon this teaching regarding faith. The act of exercising true faith as one prays, or as one leans on the resources of God, is itself the title-deed or evidence of the sure answer to our prayer or the unfailing source of the divine supply. It is God’s guarantee in advance that we already possess the things asked for. They may still be in His hands, awaiting the proper time for their delivery, but they are ours. If the answers to our prayers are not forthcoming at once, let us rest content with the title-deed, which God has given us, namely, a Holy Spirit energized act of faith. We may be absolutely certain that our God will honor this title-deed at the right moment.
When you own property, you are given a ‘title-deed’ to prove your ownership . . . it is yours, and no-one can take it from you. Your ‘faith,’ is a title-deed that God holds on your behalf, His promised land. No-one can take this from you . . . there is no persuasion or pressure that can change your ‘stance.’. . . because of its ‘substance’ . . . He stands under you. You can own something that you do not see, and it is no less yours.
Finally, concerning the use of ‘title-deed, let us read verses 1 through 4 of Hebrews 11 in context, with personal revisions:
(1) Now faith is the title-deed of things hoped for, the proof or evidence of things not seen. (2) For by it the men of old gained witness. (3) By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (4) By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he gained witness that he was righteous, God bearing witness about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.
We see that together these four verses act like a preamble to the list of faith events to follow. These verses also have language that leads credence to the use of title-deed or some other legal variant.
The word “proof or evidence” is the translation of ‘elegchos’, which means, “a proof, that by which a thing is proved or tested.” Thayer (Thayer’s Greek – English Lexicon of the New Testament – Joseph Thayer) in commenting on its use defines it as follows: “that by which invisible things are proved and we are convinced of their reality.” His second definition of the word is “conviction.”
The words “bearing or gained witness” are the translation of ‘martureo,’ which means, “to bear witness to.” It is used three times in these verses, and two more times in the remainder of the chapter. Here the verb is in the passive voice. Literally, “for by it the elders were borne witness to.” God bore witness to them that their faith would gain victory for them over all obstacles.
All of the above words have very precise meanings. The wordings have a very technical businesslike tone, and seem to point toward some type of heavenly transaction. One that requires a certain proof or God given validation. It sounds similar to:
Ephesians 1:13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, (14) who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
My Own Suggestion
My own non-Greek-scholar word recommendation for hupostasis is ‘reality.’ Everything that is seen in this world comes from the unseen spiritual realm. To understand anything about faith we must understand that everything begins when God speaks. Faith is the doorway into the reality of God’s ‘speaking,’ and faith is conveyed to us by Him speaking to us. Faith is not an extremely convincing thought, but rather, a tangible God given confidence in His speaking. God transfers the power of His speaking to us through faith. That is what is meant by, ‘speaking His word.’ Faith comes to us in the form of God’s promises that have become a reality in our heart. Faith comes to the heart the moment a promise comes alive, and the promise becomes ‘real’ to the individual. Again, this ‘reality’ may not be an actual ‘substance,’ but it must be sufficiently real and distinct in the mind of God for Him to consider it as ‘evidence of things not seen.’ Apparently, the Holman Christian Standard Bible agrees with this word choice because they also use it in their recent translation.
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. Hebrews 11:1 Holman Christian Standard Bible
Something special happens the moment faith is born in the heart. In a certain momentary flash of God’s grace, an ownership of a hope is placed within the heart. God places within us the ‘heart reality’ of our promised hope. An ownership of sorts, conveyed prior to our ever seeing our new possession. A new possession gained by a divine approval, and bestowed upon a cultivated hope. The diligent underground cultivation of hope brings a visible harvest of faith, which when combined with prayer and patience, brings forth the manifested reality. Hupostasis is the word chosen to describe the heart reality of hope’s promise.
Perhaps faith is not an actual title-deed of our hopes, but it is real enough, and authoritative enough, to stand as proof and evidence that we have gained a personal decree from God Himself. We can boldly say that this faith is the proof and approval for the divine issuance of our desired hopes.
Hope is a divine possibility, based on a general promise in the word of God – a specific comment or promise within the total (logos) of God. Faith is the personal reality of this promise made real by a specific (rhema) communication to our heart from God. Doubt sees what currently is and no more. Hope sees what can be but is not yet. Faith sees what is and what will be.
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:17 King James Version
The reality of things hoped for, comes from a message that is heard, a message that is heard from the spoken word of Christ. Romans 10:17, My Version
Additional Translations of Hebrews 11:1
(NKJ) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
(God’s Word) Faith assures us of the things we expect and convinces us of the existence of things we cannot see.
(TLV – Tree of Life) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen.
(TEV) To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.
(NIV) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
(Jerusalem) Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.
(NEB) And what is faith? Faith gives substance to our hopes, and makes us certain of realities we do not see.
(REB) Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see.
(RSV) Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
(Phillips) Now faith means that we have full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see.
(Living) What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.
(Greber) Faith is a confident trust in the things we hope for, and a firm belief in things that cannot be seen with our physical eyes.
(Anderson) Faith is being sure about things we hope for and certain about things we can’t see.
(Book of Books) Now faith is the sure confidence of things hoped for, the certainty of things not seen.
(Basic English) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the sign that the things not seen are true.
(Worrell) Now faith is an assurance of things hoped for, a sure persuasion of things not seen;
(Amplified) Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title-deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality — faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses.
(The Message) The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.
(New Berkeley) But faith is an assurance of what is hoped for, a conviction of unseen realities.
(Berkeley) But faith forms a solid ground for what is hoped for, a conviction of unseen realities.
(Lattimore) Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the proof of things unseen;
(Holy Bible for Children) Now, faith is being sure we’re going to get the things we hope for. It is being sure of the things we cannot see.
(Holman Christian Standard Bible) Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.
(NAB) Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.
(Beck) Faith is being sure of the things we hope for, being convinced of the things we can’t see.
(ASV) Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.
(Knox) What is faith? It is that which gives substance to our hopes, which convinces us of things we cannot see.
(Noli) Now faith gives us confidence in what we hope for, and insight in what we cannot see.
(Wuest) Now faith is the title deed of things hoped for, the proof of things which are not being seen.
(Barclay) Faith is the confidence that the things which as yet we only hope for really do exist. It is the conviction of the reality of the things which as yet are out of sight.
(Moffatt) Now faith means that we are confident of what we hope for, convinced of what we do not see.
(Douay) Now, faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.
(Authentic) Now faith is the solid ground of our expectations, the proof of unseen actualities.
(New Life) Now faith is being sure we will get what we hope for. It is being sure of what we cannot see.
(20th Cen., Revised) Faith is the realization of things hoped for — the proof of things not seen.
(20th Cen., Tentative) Faith is confidence in the realization of one’s hopes; it is a conviction regarding things which are not yet visible.
(Syriac) Now faith is the persuasion of the things that are in hope, as if they were in act; and [it is] the manifestness of the things not seen.
(Easy-to-Read) Faith means being sure of the things we hope for. And faith means knowing that something is real even if we don’t see it.
(Weymouth, 3rd) Now faith is a well-grounded assurance of that for which we hope, and a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see.
(Cotton Patch) Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds; it is betting your life on the unseen realities.
(Wand) Now faith is a conviction of the fulfillment of our hopes, and a continual reliance upon the unseen world.
(Kleist & Lilly) Faith is the foundation of the blessings for which we hope, the proof of the realities which we do not see.
(Swann) Now faith is a foundation of things hoped for; it is the means of proving unseen realities.
(Lovett) What is faith, you ask? Well, it is an inner assurance that the things we hope for actually exist, and the conviction that they are already ours even though we cannot see them.
(Simple English) Faith is the title-deed to the things we hope for. Faith is being sure of things we cannot see.
(Laubach) Faith means being sure of the thing we hope for. It is being convinced of what we cannot see.
(Hayman) What then is faith? — a realization of things hoped for, a conviction of facts unseen.
(Adams) Now faith is a solidly grounded certainty about what we hope for, a conviction about the reality of things we don’t see.
(Klingensmith) Now faith is the real part of things hoped for. It is the proof we do not see.
(Montgomery) Now faith is the title-deed of things hoped for, the putting to the proof of things not seen.
(Way) Faith is that attitude of mind which is the foundation-rock on which hope stands, that which satisfies us of the reality of things as yet beyond our ken.
(Williams) Now faith is the assurance of the things we hope for, the proof of the reality of the things we cannot see.