Re: Hebrews 11:1

From: George Blaisdell (
Date: Sun May 09 1999 - 12:12:10 EDT


>From: "Carl W. Conrad"

>My thanks to George for "making work for me"

Thank-you for your graciousness, Carl ~

Little obsessions like this are fairly rare for me, and I trust them when
they arrive ~ This one lasted three days ~ Finally resolving yesterday

As you so carefully note, the key is to understand PRAGMATWN as God's, not
man's, doings or events, and according to the book of Hebrews itself, the
many examples cited are about God foretelling an event, and the faith that
kept the faithful elders [Abel, Enoch, Noah, etc] in hopeful expectation of
its arrival, in the face of having no physical evidence to go on, each
example being a monument to faith.

So this little 8 word passage is about these kinds of people and the faith
that they enshrine. These are events that God foretells ~ and one way to
translate PRAGMATWN *in Hebrews* is "events (foretold)".

The 'circle of my 11:1 obsession' closed when I took this idea seriously,
because in the genitive it then limits the kind of faith that this passage
so artfully portrays. It is about faith that proceeds from God's
foretelling of events, and not about all faith, except by implication.

PISTIS DE ESTIN lacks a specifying article, which is provided by PRAGMATWN.
It does not read ESTIN DE H PISTIS, or H PISTIS DE ESTIN... No. This is
about that faith which has to do with God's doings ~ Not faith in anything
else, as the examples so clearly show.
So that PISTIS PRAGMATWN is indeed the central topic of this sentence.

> >If yes, then the definition centers on and >turns around [c], PRAGMATWN,
> >which itself affixes to both parallels, >so that the primary sentence
> >ESTIN DE PISTIS PRAGMATWN by chiastic emphasis, and the predicate
> >nominatives are themselves modifiers of PRAGMATWN.

This is where I failed to understand that the whole chiastic 'ring' of 5
words IS the predicate nominative.

>And this is precisely what troubled me: you want to link PRAGMATWN to
>PISTIS before bringing in the predicate nominates which must link to PISTIS
>before PRAGMATWN can come into play. You are so beguiled by the central
>position of PRAGMAATWN in the group (participle/predicate
>nominative/genitive noun dependent on the predicate nominative/second
>predicate nominative/second {negated} participle) that you want to see it
>as the key word in the whole 5-expression group and thereby make it the
>primary word linked to PISTIS.

Yes. As I am understanding this passage, everything TURNS on this word.

>But there is a simpler explanation, I think,
>for the position of PRAGMATWN between the two predicate nominatives, and
>that is that it is dependent upon BOTH predicate nominatives, which is why,
>in those versions you are disparaging (KJV, RSV), the word gets translated
>twice, once with each predicate nominative:
>"Now faith is the substance of THINGS hoped for, the evidence of THINGS not

It really does need to be repeated in English, as you say, and requires a
very broad and God centered understanding of 'things'.

>While I don't much like "things" for PRAGMATA in these versions
>(because what the believer hopes for but does not see is hardly so neutral
>as just any kind of "thing"--and it also seems to me that actions and
>events: what God will do--is really the focus of PRAGMATA here.

Well, I ran into trouble saying that faith is the substance of the events
foretold by God. 'Assurance' is less troublesome, but still fails.

>Note too the punctuation in 11:1: While I don't have NA27 with me here in
>the mountains, I do have USB4 and it marks the text with a comma after
>hUPOSTASIS; so far as I can see, nobody has suggested that it should come
>instead after PRAGMATWN, and yet that seems to me at least as reasonable

Indeed so...

>because I think that PRAGMATWN does indeed belong with both predicate
>nominatives--ALTHOUGH, if one is going to use "of things" in each instance,
>then conceivably the genitive plural ELPIZOMENWN might conceivably be
>understood as a neuter plural substantive rather than dependent on

Yes ~ And BLEPOMENON as well.

>My own preference would be to group PRAGMATWN with ELPIZOMENWN
>hUPOSTASIS directly and then understand it as implicitly repeated to
>construe with the second predicate nominative and participle in the >normal
>fashion of Greek elliptical expression.
>At any rate, I think there IS a reason for the central placement of
>PRAGMATWN in the five-expression phrase: NOT the highlighting of the word
>PRAGMATA but RATHER the positioning of the genitive-plural expression
>centrally between the two predicative nominatives with which it must be
>construed. As I've argued before, I believe that the more important
>positions in a Greek clause are beginning and end of the clause rather than
>its center.

>Perhaps something more needs to be said about the way you are picking up
>this PRAGMATWN and running (away) with it.

I simply misunderstood it...

>The referent of PRAGMATA here must, I
>think, be the events of the end-time as God works out his will to
>consummation: that is what is hoped for but not seen, as the participles

The examples cited by the author of Hebrews are more general than this, and
should better be understood as meaning 'events foretold', which would
include the end times, and might even imply them.

> >>I think it's intolerable that PRAGMATWN should be construed as objective
> >>genitive to a
> >>noun farther removed from either of those immediately adjacent to it.
> >
> >Well, I certainly have no tolerance for it! :-) d'accord!
>Then I must have misunderstood you entirely, George--

No, you didn't... I mis-spoke. :-(

>I certainly had the
>impression that you wanted to translate the clause, owing to what you saw
>as the emphasis, something like "Faith is of actions ..." and then go on to
>bring in the predicate nominatives and the participles separately.

I do, because of what I am seeing as the highly contextualized formulaic
expression following ESTIN DE PISTIS being of itself a whole unit of meaning
and forming the predicate nominative of PISTIS.

Within this whole, there is structure ~ And I have been exploring the
meaning of that structure ~ word order ~ And I agree that the first word
[ELPIZOMENWN] is most emphasized because it sets in motion the context of
the minds activity of understanding as it is hearing or reading the words.
The thought then develops through subsequent word[s] to a turning point ~ In
this case, PRAGMATWN ~ and then it works through to its conclusion.
[BLEPOMENWN] This is the structuring of the 'whole' of a thought, and is
common in these texts, although usually not so elegantly done as it is here.

>let me suggest my own endeavaor to preserve the grammar and the 'chiastic'
>word order of Heb 11:1. This is all the more 'chiaastic' because I present
>the translation of PRAGMATWN a second time, so that the structure of
>"This is faith: when we hope, it is our assurance of the events we hope for
>and of those events it is our touchstone although we do not see them."
>Without the repetition of the translation of PRAGMATWN, it becomes:
>"Here is faith: when we hope, our assurance of the events we hope for and
>our touchstone, although we do not see them."
>Admittedly this is a paraphrase rather than a literal translation, because
>one must insert the links that the target language requires if one is to
>keep items in the order in which they appear in the original language.

Thank-you Carl. This little passage really does practically require
paraphrasing. I offer a more literal rendition that seems to keep the
context of Hebrews, rather than offering the broad brush that most versions
want to give it as a description of faith per se.

"Of events foretold, faith is the basis if their being hoped for, the
uncovering of their not being seen."

OR ~ Embedding PRAGMATWN ~

"Faith is the basis of events foretold being hoped for, the uncovering of
their not being seen."

The first is clearer, because it clearly does not assert that faith is the
basis of [God's] events, but instead is the basis of their being hoped for
and expected. As well, faith is what uncovers their not being seen.
[Partitive genitive]

Neither has the poetic beauty of the KJV ~ Or the elegance of the Greek. I
would hope that both have precision of rendering the Greek text insofar as
it is possible to do so in English.

Thanks again, Carl ~ I'm ready to put this one to bed! It has been a


George Blaisdell
Roslyn, WA

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