Heb 11:6—A Reassessment of the Translation “God Exists” -- By: Donald E. Hartley

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 27:2 (Fall 2006)
Article: Heb 11:6—A Reassessment of the Translation “God Exists”
Author: Donald E. Hartley

Heb 11:6—A Reassessment of the Translation “God Exists”

Donald E. Hartley

Donald E. Hartley is a Bible teacher in the Dallas area, an Elder at Scofield Memorial Church, and an author.

I. Introduction

Perhaps most readers of Heb 11:6 understand the verse to mean that a person who comes to God must first believe in God’s existence, then that he rewards those who seek him.1 That is, they must be theists rather than atheists, then comprehend his character as one who rewards the faithful. However, commentators have pointed out that the introduction of the philosophical concept of God's existence versus non-existence (atheism contra theism) seems to appear in a contextual vacuum, both literarily and historically. That is, the context in Heb 11:6 does not appear to anticipate an ontological discussion of the existence of God, nor would the historical, cultural, or intellectual setting of the book of Hebrews expect the assertion of God's existence. I will argue here that the common understanding of Heb 11:6, in fact, has little contextual support, appears philosophically and theologically problematic, and is based on an unnecessary grammatical construal. This article will offer an alternative that appears philosophically sound, culturally congruent, contextually justifiable, and grammatically feasible: “God is faithful and he becomes a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” It is God’s faithfulness rather than his existence that provides the basis for being a “rewarder.”

II. A Perusal of the Common Views of Heb 11:6

Chrysostom (A.D. 347–407) is usually the first interpreter associated with expositing Heb 11:6 as meaning “God exists.”2 Modern commentators follow suit but are confessedly perplexed about the meaning and relationship of the two phrases ὅτι ἔστιν and μισθαποδότης γίνεται. Spicq interprets these as referring to “l’existence du seul Dieu personnel. .. invisible de se nature. .. et sa Providence rémunératrice, fondement du bonheur espéré.”3 Westcott understands the first to refer to God’s existence and the second to his moral governance.4 Moffatt thinks faith implies God’s existence but then notes that the Greeks thought...

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