What is the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11)?

The "Hall of Faith" is a term used to refer to the passage of Scripture found in Hebrews 11. It is wordplay from the term "Hall of Fame" where outstanding individuals in any sport, profession, field of study, locality, or the like are honored for their contributions to the field. By honoring these individuals in a hall of fame, they are set apart as examples for others to follow. Similarly, the author of Hebrews sets apart a list of figures from the Old Testament as examples for the readers to follow. The list is called the "Hall of Faith" because these figures were known for living out their faith rather than for being famous.

The author of Hebrews explains in the preceding chapters 9 and 10 how Jesus is a better sacrifice and a better high priest than the sacrifices and priests of the Old Testament. In fact, the author states that "every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins" (Hebrews 10:11). Thus, readers might ask if the sacrifices did not save people in the Old Testament times, then how were they saved? In chapter 11, the author answers, "For by [faith] the people of old received their commendation" (Hebrews 11:2). People in the Old Testament were saved by God's grace through faith, just as people now are saved by God's grace through faith (Galatians 3; Ephesians 2:8–9). In a following chapter, the author states, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8) showing that God does not change and has always required faith from His people.

In Hebrews 11, the author proves his point by listing notable figures throughout the Old Testament who acted out their faith. Each figure is introduced with the phrase "by faith," followed by the person's name and their faith-filled obedient actions.

The list is as follows: BY FAITH … "Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain" (Hebrews 11:4, cf. Genesis 4:4–7); "Enoch [having pleased God] was taken up so that he should not see death" (Hebrews 11:5, cf. Genesis 5:21–24); Noah "in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household" (Hebrews 11:7, cf. Genesis 6:13–22); Abraham "went out, not knowing where he was going… to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents" (Hebrews 11:8–9, cf. Genesis 12:1–4) and Abraham "offered up Isaac… [because] he considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead" (Hebrews 11:17–19, cf. Genesis 22:1–14); Sarah "received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised" (Hebrews 11:11, cf. Genesis 21:1–3); "Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau" (Hebrews 11:20, cf. Genesis 27:37–40); Jacob "blessed each of the sons of Joseph" (Hebrews 11:21, cf. Genesis 48:4–22); Joseph "made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones" (Hebrews 11:22, cf. Genesis 50:24–25); Moses "was hidden for three months by his parents" (Hebrews 11:23, cf. Exodus 2:2), "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God" (Hebrews 11:24–25, cf. Exodus 2:11–12), "left Egypt… [and] kept the Passover" (Hebrews 11:27–28, cf. Exodus 12:21–28, 50–51); the Israelites "crossed the Red Sea as on dry land" (Hebrews 11:29, cf. Exodus 14:22); "the walls of Jericho fell down" (Hebrews 11:30, cf. Joshua 6:20); and Rahab gave "friendly welcome to the spies" (Hebrews 11:31, cf. Joshua 2:1–24).

The author then condenses the list saying, "And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets" (Hebrews 11:32). Their faithful actions are summarized with the lines, "who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life" (Hebrews 11:33–35). The author then refers to "others" who suffered various forms of persecution.

The author concludes this Hall of Faith stating, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1–2). While the listed figures of the Old Testament are examples of faith to be followed, it is Jesus who is our ultimate example of faithful obedience. Paul explained to the Philippian church that Jesus "humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8).

As seen in all these examples, obedient action is directly linked to exercising faith in God. To truly "have faith" like the figures from the Old Testament who are listed in the Hall of Faith, one must actively follow God's call on his or her life. We demonstrate our faith in our loyalties and our actions. Jesus speaks of abiding in His love by obeying His commands (John 15:1–17). When we believe God we seek to honor Him and to obey Him. We will fail (1 John 1:9), but God remains faithful (Romans 8; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 1; Jude 1:24–25). Ultimately, as we submit to His work in our lives, it is God who shapes our hearts and our behaviors to live in line with His will (Romans 12:1–2; 2 Corinthians 5:17–21; Philippians 2:12–13). But it is important to recognize that while we are saved by God's grace and not our own efforts, true faith is a matter of the heart and not mere words (James 2:14–26).

These examples, and our own experiences, also demonstrate that exercising faith and obedience does not guarantee a smooth or happy life here on earth, and in fact sometimes quite the opposite (2 Timothy 3:12). Yet all who have been "born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3, 5). God "has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:5–6). We need "not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6–7, cf. 1 Peter 5:7).

Everyone today is invited to place their faith in God, trust in Jesus' saving work, and live in obedience to God's will, trusting that He is faithful to His promises and that He will never leave them or forsake them (Romans 8; Ephesians 2:1–10). We have ample testimony of God's faithfulness to His people and numerous examples of those who have gone before us in trust and obedience to God. This should be of tremendous encouragement to all who follow Christ.

Related Truth:

What is a biblical definition of faith?

Why is knowing about the various characters in the Bible important?

How can I trust the faithfulness of God?

Progressive sanctification—What is it?

When I see a promise of God in the Bible, how can I know if it applies to me?

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