Hebrews 11 begins, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it men of old gained approval…without faith it is impossible to please Him” (vv. 1, 2, 6). A proper understanding of faith is crucial to life.
In the Old Testament, faith is translated from the Hebrew word aman meaning, to confirm, support, uphold, to be established, and to be certain. It primarily has the sense of faithfulness and trustworthiness, and is the noun that corresponds to the verb “believe.” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament also states, “biblical faith is an assurance, a certainty, in contrast with modern concepts of faith as something possible, hopefully true, but not certain”, and, “at the heart of the meaning of the root is the idea of certainty.”
The idea of certainty is further reflected by the derivative amen which, when carried into the New Testament, becomes the English word, “amen.” Jesus often used this term (translated “truly” or “verily”) to stress the absolute certainty of a matter. An illustration of this is His statement concerning God’s Word, “For truly (amen) I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished”(Matt 5:18). Commenting on this, Scott writes,
The Hebrew and Greek forms come at the end of hymns of praise (Ps 41:13; 106:48; 2 Tim 4:18; Rev. 22:20, etc.). This indicates that the term so used in our prayers ought to express certainty and assurance in the Lord to whom we pray.
Another Hebrew noun translated faith is emuna. It is “used to refer to those whose lives God establishes. He expects to see faithfulness in them (Proverbs 12:22; 2 Chronicles 19:9). Indeed, such faithfulness, or a life of faith, is characteristic of those justified in God’s sight (Habakkuk 2:4).”
The New Testament further develops the concept of faith, particularly emphasizing its volitional element. The Greek word pistis means, “firm persuasion, a conviction based upon hearing” and is always directed toward God or Christ or spiritual things (Vine’s Expository Dictionary). The main sense of the word faith in the New Testament is that of trust or reliance. For instance, in the book of Hebrews, Hobbs notes:
…the substantive pistis (faith) is used thirty-two times, twenty-four times in Chapter 11. It is the opposite of the no faith mentioned in 3:12,19. So whereas Israel at Kadesh-barnea had rebelled due to a lack of faith, those mentioned in this chapter had lived victoriously “by faith” or with faith as the instrument. It should be remembered that “faith” in Chapter 11 is not the faith by which one is redeemed but faith by which to live a full and effective life in the will of God.
This confident trust or reliance upon the God of the Bible is what characterized the lives of those mentioned in Hebrews 11. Biblical faith is a living faith, an empty-handed faith that trusts a trustworthy God and then obeys Him regardless of the cost.