- Locate the passage.
In Heb 10:38–39, the author prepared the way for the great hall of faith in Hebrews 11 by his quotation of Hab 2:3–4 and the reference in v. 39 to “those who believe.”
Expository. There is a clear shift in the discourse structure from exhortation in 10:35–40 to exposition in 11:1–40. Although Hebrews 11 is expositional in genre, the author has something of a hortatory purpose in mind, as can be seen by its connection with 12:1–3.
- Determine the structure of the text
The chapter itself is clearly marked as a unit by the inclusio formed by the author’s use of “faith” and “commended” in both v. 1 and v. 39. The author has also made use of lexical chiasm in the order found in the Greek text: “faith” and “commended” in v. 1; “commended” and “faith” in v. 39, thus creating an ABBA pattern.
The chapter is also given cohesion by the lexical repetition of the word “faith” which occurs twenty-four times.
In vv. 1–2, the author offers a two-pronged definition of sorts for faith, followed by the statement that the “elders” or “men of old” received divine approval. Verses 3–31 proceed to give examples of these Old Testament characters who illustrate the kind faith mentioned in v. 1. This section is unified by the repetition of the Greek dative pistei, “by faith,” at the beginning of successive clauses. This usage of pistei occurs eighteen times in vv. 3–31, but nowhere else in the epistle.
In vv. 3–31 the author selectively surveys key figures from the Old Testament from Genesis 1 through Joshua 6 who were characterized by their faith. Verses 32–38 continue in this same vein, but with the marked difference that the author employs short, staccato like clauses to contrast those who won great victories by their faith with those who suffered and were martyred for their faith. The contrast is only in the end result: some were victorious through miraculous means while others suffered and died. The point of the author, however, is that whether in life or in death, all were victorious “by faith.” Their victory was not just the result of the fact that they had faith, but was the result of the working of God in their lives in response to their faith in him.
This section begins by mentioning four names from the period of the judges: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, followed by David, Samuel and “the prophets.” Contrary to the previous section, the author does not mention specific events from their lives that illustrate faith.
The chapter concludes with a summary statement in v. 39 harking back to vv. 1–2.
Verses 39–40 serve a two-fold function: (1) to summarize the chapter in succinct fashion, and (2) to serve as a transition to 12:1–13. The author concludes his lengthy list of examples by stating two truths in v. 39: (1) all the heroes mentioned “were commended” by God for their faith, (2) “yet none of them received what had been promised.” God’s commendation of their faith gives warrant for the author to use these men and women as examples for his readers to emulate. Yet contrary to expectation, none of these heroes received in their lifetimes the fulfillment of the promise (singular) God had made to them. Interestingly, this is the first time in Hebrews that the word “promise” is used in the singular. The meaning is probably to salvation in Christ. Many have expressed the notion of an apparent contradiction between vv. 13 and 39 when compared to v. 33. The solution is to be found in the fact that v. 33 speaks of the act of promising while vv. 13 and 39 refer to the fulfillment of those promises.
The “something better” in v. 40 which “God had planned” for the readers is clarified by the final clause which reads literally in Greek “in order that not apart from us they should be perfected.” Although the identification of “something better” is not explicitly stated in the text, contextually it clearly involves the salvation brought to all believers in Christ.
- Exegete the passage
See Neva Miller, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Analytical and Exegetical Handbook, 326-83; J. Harold Greenlee, Hebrews: An Exegetical Summary, 427-501; and David L. Allen, Hebrews, 538-68, for detailed exegetical and semantic analysis of the text.
- Let the structure of the text drive the structure of the sermon.