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.
The human mind requires an answer to the question concerning the origin and nature of all things. The world as we find it must be accounted for in some way. Philosophers and scientists have sought to account for it, the one by speculation, the other by observation, but they have not found the final Truth. Here TRUTH should be spelled indeed with a capital T, for it is nothing less than the Son of God, the Second Person of the blessed Godhead!
Those who believe the Christian revelation know that the universe is a creation. It is not eternal, since it had a beginning, and it is not the result of a succession of happy coincidences whereby an all but infinite number of matching parts accidentally found each other, fell into place and began to hum!
So to believe would require a degree of credulity few persons possess.
Those who have faith are not thrown back upon speculation for the secret of the universe. Faith is an organ of knowledge, and “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.”
All things came out of the Word, which in the New Testament means the thought and will of God in active expression and is identified with our Lord Jesus Christ!
11:3 Faith provides us with the only factual account of creation. God is the only One who was there; He tells us how it happened. We believe His word and thus we know. McCue states: “The conception of God pre-existent to matter and by His fiat calling it into being is beyond the domain of reason or demonstration. It is simply accepted by an act of faith.”
By faith we understand. The world says, “Seeing is believing.” God says, “Believing is seeing.” Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see …” (John 11:40). The Apostle John wrote, “These things I have written to you who believe … that you may know” (1 Jn. 5:13). In spiritual matters faith precedes understanding.
The worlds were framed by the word of God. God spoke and matter came into being. This agrees perfectly with man’s discovery that matter is essentially energy. When God spoke, there was a flow of energy in the form of sound waves. These were transformed into matter, and the world sprang into being.
The things which are seen were not made out of things which are visible. Energy is invisible; so are atoms, and molecules, and gases to the naked eye, yet in combination they become visible.
The fact of creation as set forth here in Hebrews 11:3 is unimpeachable. It has never been improved on and never will.
3. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
At first sight we are inclined to read verse 3 with verse 1 and consider verse 2 the logical heading of the list of the men of faith. But we have no justification for rearranging the author’s design. He begins his illustrations of demonstrating faith with a comment about creation. No one was present at creation to observe the formation of the world. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” God asks Job (38:4). By using the plural we understand, the author includes himself and all his readers in the confession that God created the world.
The first declaration in the long list of the verses beginning with “by faith” is so rich in meaning that we do well to discuss this verse phrase by phrase. Before we enter upon a full discussion, however, we should note that verse 3b is translated in two ways. That is, the negative adverb not is placed either before the verb to make or before the word appear—apart from variations in translating this verse. The verse can he translated either “so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” or “so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.”11 Translators are about equally divided on this particular issue. We shall discuss the matter as it presents itself in the sequence of the verse.
- “By faith.” This is the first occurrence in a series of twenty-one uses of the phrase by faith. After these the author tells the readers that he lacks the time to write about additional Old testament saints who also showed their faith (11:32–38). “These were all commended for their faith” (11:39).
- “We understand.” The author and his readers are able to understand God’s creation by faith. Although we are unable to observe that which is invisible, in our minds we recognize the power of God. Understanding creation—even in a limited sense—means that we reflect in faith on the relationship of Creator to creation. In Romans 1:20 Paul provides a striking parallel that even in translation is close.
|By faith we understand
|the Creation of the world
|that the universe was formed
|God’s invisible qualities …
|at God’s command,
|have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made
|so that what is seen, was not made out of what was visible
- “The universe was formed.” Translations vary from “world” or “worlds” to “universe” (see Heb. 1:2). The concept includes “the whole scheme of time and space” (Phillips). Moreover, God gave form, shape, and order to the universe. According to the creation account in Genesis, “God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1) and then proceeded to give structure and variety to a formless and empty earth.
- “At God’s command.” We are immediately reminded of the six commands God spoke at the time of creation (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24). “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,” says the psalmist (Ps. 33:6). Purposely God created the world in such a manner that man can understand its origin only by faith. God made the world by his command. “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:9).
- “So that what is seen.” The author of Hebrews refers to that which visibly exists in God’s creation—that is, light, sky, stars, earth, and countless other things. Man is able to see all these entities with his physical eyes. These things, however, have not been made of what can be observed.
- “Was not made out of what was visible.” Because no one was present at the time of creation, eyewitness reports do not exist. Man must rely on what God has revealed to him about the creation of the universe and the formation of the world. And by faith man ascertains that creation originates with God.
How should verse 3 be translated? I have adopted the translation that negates the verb to make, for this translation appears to favor the flow of the argument. The word visible implies that at one time this creation did not exist and therefore is not eternal. Creation has a beginning. Moreover, prior to creation, the invisible prevailed. We would have been happy to receive more revelation concerning this point, but the author of Hebrews provides no further information where God’s revelation is silent. We do well not to speculate (Deut. 29:29).
The Illustration of Faith
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (11:3)
The writer is saying to the Jews who had not yet trusted Christ, “You already have a certain faith in God. You believe that He created the universe and everything in it.” They believed this without any doubt, even though they were not there when God created. They could not see His act of creating, but they could see His creation and they believed in the Creator. They had a start of faith. They knew and accepted this truth by faith, not by sight. Their own Scriptures taught it and they believed it.
God did not just create the world, but the worlds (aiōn), which designates the physical universe itself and also its operation, its administration. He created everything simply by His word (rhēma), His divine utterance. He created from nothing, at least not from anything physical, or visible. The writer makes an absolutely stupendous claim in this short verse. The greatest claim, and the one hardest for an unbeliever to accept, is that understanding of creation comes entirely by faith.
The origin of the universe has been a long-standing problem for philosophers and scientists. Centuries of investigation, speculation, and comparing of notes and theories have brought them no closer to a solution. Every time a consensus seems to be developing about a particular theory, someone comes up with evidence that disproves it or makes it less plausible.
Bertrand Russell spent most of his 90 years as a philosopher. His most certain conviction was that Christianity was the greatest enemy of mankind, because it taught of a tyrannical God who stifled man’s rightful freedom. He admitted at the end of his life that philosophy “was a wash-out,” that it held no answers for anything. He had written that “we must conquer the world by intelligence,” and yet all of his own great intellect and all of the other intellects who looked to themselves for answers never found an answer. Russell’s greatest faith was in the idea that there is no God. He rejected the only source of answers, meaning, and hope.
Most philosophy is mere doodling with words, as many people do with a pencil. Without revelation, a source of basic truth, the best it can do is make verbal squiggles. Some are more impressive than others, but none can lay claim to the truth or to ultimate meaning. Paul warned the Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men” (Col. 2:8).
Science has done no better than philosophy in offering answers to the origin of the universe. Even though science, by definition, is limited to the observable, measurable, and repeatable, some scientists persist in speculating about the origin of the earth and of the entire universe—trying to reconstruct the process from what can be observed today. They, like the philosophers, have assumed a burden far beyond their competence and resources.
For some 100 years the nebula theory was the dominant scientific explanation of the origin of the universe. It was eventually replaced by the tidal theory, which was soon replaced by the steady-state theory, the super dense (big bang) theory, and so on. None of these theories gained universal acceptance among scientists. Today, theories are still multiplying and none yet is universally accepted, much less proved. The same is true of theories of evolution. Even some nonreligious scientists are calling for science to reconsider the very notion of evolution. Discovery of origins is far outside man’s scope of knowledge and investigation. His attempts to discover where the universe came from, or where man himself came from, cannot possibly end in anything but futility. He is doomed to go from one unprovable theory to another.
Physics professor T. L. Moore of the University of Cincinnati has said, “To talk of the evolution of thought from sea slime to amoeba, from amoeba to a self-conscious thinking man, means nothing. It is the easy solution of a thoughtless brain.”
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, a truth the world’s most brilliant thinkers have not discovered and cannot discover on their own. It is beyond the realm of scientific investigation, but it is not beyond knowing—if we are willing to be taught by the Word of God. The Christian has no reason to be proud of his knowledge. It is a gift from God, like every other blessing of faith. By his own resources, he could no more discover the truth about origins than could the rankest atheist.
The Christian insists that all truth is God’s truth. Some of it—the natural world—is discoverable with our eyes, ears, touch, and intellect. A great deal more of it, however, is not. It is apprehended only by faith, for which the Christian should make no apology. The very attempt to explain the universe, or our own being and nature, apart from God is a fool’s effort. These things we understand only by faith in the revealed Word of Scripture. Faith comprehends that which the mind of man, no matter how brilliant, cannot fathom. “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him. For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God” (1 Cor. 2:9–10).
An evangelist of many years ago told the beautiful story of two little boys he once visited in a London hospital.
The cots were side-by-side. One boy had a dangerous fever, the other had been struck by a truck and his body was badly mangled. The second one said to the first, “Say, Willie, I was down to the mission Sunday school and they told me about Jesus. I believe that if you ask Jesus, He will help you. They said that if we believe in Him and pray to God, then when we die He’ll come and take us with Him to heaven.” Willie replied, “But what if I’m asleep when He comes and I can’t ask Him?” His friend said, “Just hold up your hand; that’s what we did in Sunday school. I guess Jesus sees it.” Since Willie was too weak to hold up his arm, the other boy propped it up for him with a pillow. During that night, Willie died, but when the nurse found him the next morning, his arm was still propped up.
We can be sure that the Lord saw his arm, because the Lord sees faith and the Lord accepts faith. By faith Willie saw the way to heaven. By faith he saw what the learned will never discover on their own. God’s greatest truths are discovered by simple faith. It is not the world’s way to truth, but a thousand years from now—if the Lord tarries that long—the world will still be devising and rejecting its theories. The person of faith knows the truth now. Faith is the only way to God.
3 “Faith” cannot be found in the normal way in the creation story, since there were no human beings there to exercise it (except Adam and Eve, who are conspicuously and understandably not included in the list!). The opening “by faith” cannot therefore have here the biographical focus it has throughout the rest of the chapter. It might then seem an unnecessary and inconvenient decision to include Genesis 1–2 in the catalogue at all: did the author really have to start at the very beginning? But in fact, different as this example must be, it contributes something important to the chapter, a telling example of “being certain of what we do not see.” People can look at the created universe and see it as a self-contained reality—many scientists and ordinary people do so today, as they always have. It is only “by faith” that we, guided by the scriptural account, are able to see behind the scenes, to find in the visible world a testimony to “what we do not see,” the God who made it. The point is important. When all the philosophical arguments have been rehearsed and refined, it remains in the end a matter of faith. There will always be those who cannot see beyond the surface level, and argument alone will not persuade them. This is the realm of faith.
“What is seen was not made out of what was visible” (or “was made out of what was not visible”—the Greek allows either rendering) makes the point emphatically. Behind the sequence of matter begetting matter there lies a beginning, when the material world was made not out of preexisting matter but by the creative word of the invisible God. “What was visible” translates the Greek word phainomena—phenomenology is not the whole story! For “the universe,” see note on 1:2.
 Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2195). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 312–314). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 292–294). Chicago: Moody Press.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 150). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.