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Things Unseen, Now Seen

All Scripture references are to the King James (Authorised) Version, unless noted otherwise.

Q Heb. 11:3 – ‘Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.’

What does this mean?

A This verse belongs to the chapter on Faith, in which the writer of the book of Hebrews extols the virtues of the Old Testament men and women who were steadfast in the face of hardship and persecution.
Those such as Noah (v. 7), Abraham (vs. 8-10), Sara (Abraham’s wife, vs. 11, 12), Moses (vs. 23-28), and many others (v. 32 on).

 

The opening statement of the chapter (v. 1) defines the essence of faith as ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’.

 

The American Standard Version renders ‘substance’ as ‘assurance’. That is to say, faith is another way of ‘seeing’, of being convinced of the truthfulness of not merely the existence of God, but also of His utter reliability, an inner certainty which trusts His promises (v. 6):

 

‘. . . without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.’

Perhaps the most succinct definition of faith, identifying the roles of the intellect and the affections enlisted in this quality, is that given by Prof. P. S. L. Johnson: ‘mental appreciation and heart’s reliance.’
Faith is by its nature active, is centred on the saving power of Christ, and nourishes itself on the written Word of God and His providences.

Framed, etc.

The translation in the KJV  ‘framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear’ is almost incomprehensible. Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible offers a better rendering: ‘ages’ (from the Greek, eons), instead of ‘worlds’ [emphases added]:

 

‘By faith we understand the ages to have been fitted together

by declaration of God, to the end that not out of things appearing should that which is seen have come into existence.’

Johnson paraphrases this as follows [emphases added]:

‘By faith we understand that the Ages were adjusted to God’s Word [Plan], so that the thing perceived [in our Age] has [be]come from things not manifest [in a preceding Age].’ E.g., The mystery of God, that the Christ is not one, but many members . . . , was not clear in the Ages before, but is clear now in the Gospel Age; that Christ should first suffer and afterward enter into glory, was not clear in the Ages before ours, but is clear now in the Gospel Age . . . .

From the above analysis it seems that Heb. 11: 3 does not refer to the creation of the world at all, but rather to the gradual revealing, or timely unfolding, of the divine plan of the ages, to the household of faith. This thought is supported in chap. 12, in which the contrast is drawn between the heroes of old and the ‘church of the firstborn’ the ‘we’ class. That is, the then and the now. See11: 39 versus 40; compare with 12: 23, 24, 28.

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