Re: Hebrews 11:1

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed May 05 1999 - 09:08:08 EDT

I've read previous answers, and while I'm not sure I can add anything
"substantive" to what a couple others have said, I do have some thoughts
about hUPOSTASIS in particular.

At 11:29 AM -0500 5/4/99, Kevin L. Barney wrote:
>I have several questions regarding Hebrews 11:1, which reads as follows:
>1. One generally sees HUPOSTASIS and ELEGXOS translated with a definite
>article in English, but they lack such in Greek. I realize that Greek and
>English sometimes use the article in different ways. But wouldn't it be
>possible to render these words without the article, as in "Now faith is of
>things hoped for a confident assurance, a conviction of things not seen"?

I don't think the absence of an article makes a "substantive" difference
here, but it does leave open the possibility that the participles
ELPIZOMENWN and OU BLEPOMENWN should be understood as predicative rather
than attributive. I don't really think this has a signficant bearing on the
fundamental sense of the proposition, but observe how seeing the
participles as predicative slightly alters how the whole is perceived (or
how I, at any rate, perceive it)--my paraphrase: "Faith is the basis of
happenings while we are anticipating them, the touchstone of happenings
when we do not see them." I'll try to elucidate as I go along.

>2. Does PRAGMATWN belong with ELPIZOMENWN, BLEPOMENWN, or both? Could it
>possibly have a stronger force than "things" here; maybe something like

I believe that both participles must depend upon PRAGMATWN. The word, which
most essentially means "things done" or "things to do," has an interesting
range in historical Greek, including: "affairs," "troubles/worries,"
"events," "facts" (as opposed to "hearsay"). I think it's pretty close (in
its want of concrete specificity and range of meanings to the Latin plural
noun, RES. which gets translated as "things" most frequently, if it doesn't
have some adjective or participle indicating an idiomatic use. In our
context, I think "happenings" or "events" is most appropriate, inasmuch as
the theme in the context is eschatological fulfillment. Yet the sense of
"reality" as what has permanence as opposed to what only appears real in
this perishing world-age must also be implicit, I think, in this
eschatological perspective.

>3. My main question is whether HUPOSTASIS should be taken as "substance"
>or "assurance" here. (I looked in the archives and couldn't find a
>discussion of this.)

I'm not going to cite your entire "crowd of witnesses," although I would
want to say that the very range of senses that you cite from LXX and NT
usages of hUPOSTASIS, interpretations of a broad range of 'authoritative'
Biblical versions and opinions of commentators and scholarly reference
works obviously demonstrates that there isn't any absolute consensus on the
meaning of the word in this particular passage. It does look, does it not,
as if the ways of understanding it are fundamentally two: (1) being,
essence: what a thing really is (this is what would be termed the
"philosophical" usage; and (2) confidence, assurance.

(1) I rather think that a little etymology and word-history, though not
absolutely conclusive, may well be illuminating here. For the philosophic
sense of "substance," I think the single most important factor is that the
Greek hUPO-STASIS was carried over into a precise etymological equivalent
in Latin as SUB-STANTIA, which Latin word has "substance" as an English
derivative (although English "substance" certainly doesn't always mean the
same thing in every context that Latin SUBSTANTIA means). A factor of great
import for the usage of SUBSTANTIA is that the Latin word was also used to
translate Aristotle's OUSIA, which has two distinct meanings and was
accordingly conveyed into Latin with SUBSTANTIA for the sense of "being" as
"a real thing" and with ESSENTIA (a newly-coined word) for the sense of
"essential character" or the conceptual totality that constitutes the
distinctive being of any "real thing." It's worth noting also, of course,
that hUPOSTASIS is a word playing an important role in the process of
definition of trinitarian doctrine, something into which I certainly don't
want to go here, as my concern is diction rather than theology.

For my part, I do NOT think that hUPOSTASIS in Heb 11:1 should be
understood in the philosophic sense.

(2) Returning to etymology (it was more word-history at play in the other
sense attributed to hUPOSTASIS), it should be noted that, in a literal
etymological sense, a hUPO-STASIS is "that which stands under (something
else)" or "the process of standing under something else." I think one can
readily discern the linkage of this etymology to the philosophic sense if
one assume that what stands under anything is more "basic" or
"fundamental"--an early Greek philosopher might have said it is the ARCH
upon which transient phenomenal things "depend" or from which they
"derive." But the sense of "underpinning" or "basis" or "ground to stand
on" leads also to the notion of "assurance"--and that is the sense that
seems to me most appropriate in Heb 11:1. That is, Faith is what we stand
on, what we take our stance upon when we anticipate a future that we cannot
see. It is this sense of hUPOSTASIS, I think, which more aptly illuminates
the string of patriarchal exempla who acted PISTEI. I think this is what is
made clear later in 11:14-16: hOI GAR TOIAUTA LEGONTES EMFANIZOUSIN hOTI

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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