Finally, Paul[i] also quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in the book of Hebrews. Based on the foundation of justification by faith, Paul’s quotation in Hebrews 10:38 emphasizes the perseverance that results from genuine saving faith.[ii] Warfield notes:
“That in the Epistle to the Hebrews it is the general idea of faith, or, to be more exact, the subjective nature of faith, that is dwelt upon, rather than its specific object, is not due to a peculiar conception of what faith lays hold upon, but to the particular task which fell to its writer in the work of planting Christianity in the world. With him, too, the person and work of Christ are the specific object of faith (Hebrews 13:7, 8; 3:14; 10:22). But the danger against which, in the providence of God, he was called upon to guard the infant flock, was not that it should fall away from faith to works, but that it should fall away from faith into despair. His readers were threatened not with legalism but with ‘shrinking back’ (Hebrews 10:39), and he needed, therefore, to emphasize not so much the object of faith as the duty of faith. Accordingly, it is not so much on the righteousness of faith as on its perfecting that he insists; it is not so much its contrast with works as its contrast with impatience that he impresses on his readers’ consciences; it is not so much to faith specifically in Christ and in Him alone that he exhorts them as to an attitude of faith—an attitude which could rise above the seen to the unseen, the present to the future, the temporal to the eternal, and which in the midst of sufferings could retain patience, in the midst of disappointments could preserve hope. This is the key to the whole treatment of faith in the Epistle to the Hebrews—its definition as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1); its illustration and enforcement by the example of the heroes of faith in the past, a list chosen and treated with the utmost skill for the end in view (11.); its constant attachment to the promises (Hebrews 4:1, 2; 6:12; 10:36, 38; 11:9); its connexion with the faithfulness (Hebrews 11:11; cf. 10:23), almightiness (Hebrews 11:19), and the rewards of God (Hebrews 11:6, 26); and its association with such virtues as boldness (Hebrews 3:6; 4:16; 10:19, 35), confidence (Hebrews 3:14; 11:1), patience (Hebrews 10:36; 12:1), [and] hope (Hebrews 3:6; 6:11, 18; 10:23)” (“The Biblical Doctrine of Faith,” Biblical Doctrines, Warfield, vol. 2 of Works).
Those who are truly just, Paul teaches, will live by faith: “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.”[iii] The just, those who believe to the saving[iv] of their souls, all the people of God, are contrasted with those who apostatize instead of persevering, who “draw back unto perdition”[v] and are eternally damned. Paul sets forth this truth as an encouragement to the believing Hebrews to persevere in the faith despite persecution and as a warning to those who would apostatize from Christ and return to the shadows of Judaism that they will receive, not freedom from persecution only, but with it God’s eternal curse and everlasting damnation. Those who respond in faith to the gospel (Hebrews 4:2) have more than a bare faith in God (Hebrews 6:1, cf. v. 1-9), but a kind of faith that will be mixed with patience and therefore will receive an eternal inheritance (Hebrews 6:12), a kind of faith that brings with it the purified heart of the New Covenant (Hebrews 10:22; 8:8-12). The heros of the Old Testament recalled in Hebrews 11 are the justified, those who obtain a good report and will be perfected in eternal glory with those of the first century who persevered in like manner (Hebrews 11:2, 39-40); they are the just who live by faith, those who believe to the saving of their souls, those just men made perfect who enter the New Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:23) and are a great cloud of witnesses to encourage the Hebrews in Paul’s day to persevere (Hebrews 12:1), even as the godly Christian preachers known to the recipients of Hebrews had a saving faith that led them to a blessed eternity with Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:7-8), in contrast with those in whom God has no pleasure (cf. Hebrews 10:38; 11:5-6), those who draw back to perdition (Hebrews 10:38-39).
Thus, explicating Hebrews 10:38-39, Hebrews 11 supplies an extensive analysis of how genuine faith, that possessed by those that believe to the saving of the soul, appeared in the life of Old Testament believers. The “by faith”[vi] refrain of chapter 11 indicates that the Old Testament worthies acted as they did both because of the presence of genuine faith in them and through the instrumentality of that faith. The chapter does not affirm that they were free from the effects of indwelling sin, or that they never experienced spiritual declensions, but it does teach that, as people of genuine faith, they possessed a graciously given predominent bent towards God that manifested itself in a life characterized by faithfulness and acts of faith. The servants of God in Hebrews 11, therefore, do not represent a second or higher class of Christian, but all those truly in the kingdom of God their recognized Creator (Hebrews 11:1-3), the just or righteous (Hebrews 10:38; 11:4) who please God (11:5-6), who are righteous by faith and receive salvation (11:7), who will, like Abraham and Sarah, enter the heavenly city (11:8-19), who look for future reward and therefore suffer affliction with the people of God instead of enjoying the temporary pleasures of sin (11:25-26, cf. 20-26), who forsake the heathen and are not destroyed with them (27-31), and who live by faith in whatever circumstances God places them in and enjoy the resurrection to life with an abundant reward (32-38), receiving the promise of eternal inheritance with the rest of those who possess true faith and consequently persevere (9:15; 11:39-40). That is, Hebrews 11 teaches both that justification is simply by faith and sets forth the pattern of the life of faith that will mark the justified.[vii] Since the elders obtained a good report simply by faith (11:1-2), works do not justify; nevertheless, those who have such a good report will manifest that they are just or righteous by acts such as Abel’s worship of God even at the cost of martyrdom, and will, after their life by faith as just men, enter into eternal blessedness.[viii] They will be resurrected with the just because in their lifetime they pleased God,[ix] as did Enoch (11:5), by faith (11:6). Like all the righteous of chapter 11, their good report before God in justification will issue in sanctification (11:39).[x] Those who would inherit “the righteousness which is by faith” will stand for God against the opposition of the world like Noah did when he built the ark (11:7). Those with saving faith will follow the example of Abraham, who “by faith . . . obeyed” God’s call, even at the cost of separation from one’s kindred and way of life for a wandering existence as a stranger and foreigner (11:8-9), because enduring such earthly trials to inherit the New Jerusalem is worthwhile (11:10). Saving faith recognizes the validity of God’s promises, as Sarah did, even if they seem impossible (11:11-12). Saving faith not only intellectually apprehends and is persuaded of God’s promises, but embraces them, resulting in an open confession of and identification with Him, His ways, and His people (11:13), and an open declaration of a preference for His heavenly country (11:14, 16) because of an inward preference for such a holy land and for its holy King—one who truly inwardly prefers this world to God’s coming kingdom will find an occasion to turn back from the way of faith and spiritual and everlasting life (11:15). True believers are not ashamed of God, and He is not ashamed of them, but has prepared an eternal city for them.[xi] They characteristically respond in faith to trials, as Abraham did when he put God’s command before his own son Isaac (11:17-19). They have respect to the promises of God and act in accordance with them, as did Isaac (11:20).[xii] Saving faith has respect to the Divine promises even to the time of death and manifests itself in a true heart of worship, as seen in Jacob and Joseph (11:21-22). Saving faith fears God rather than man, and honors Him even if the government commands the contrary, as seen in Moses’ parents (11:23). Saving faith identifies with the people of God and their worship, esteems reproach for Christ greater riches than worldly treasures, forsakes the world, and endures, because it looks to the coming eternal reward, as Moses did (11:24-28). Faith exposes its possessors to what appear to be severe physical dangers if required by the command of God, as is evident in Israel’s passing through the Red Sea, whose waters could, were they not restrained by God, have drowned the whole nation as they did the Egyptian army (11:29). Faith will fight the spiritual warfare to which God has called His people in accordance with His commandment (11:30), as seen in Israel’s conquest of Jericho. Faith will lead believers to protect God’s servants even at great personal risk, so that those who possess it, as didRahab, will not perish with those who are unbelievers (11:31).[xiii] Indeed, the Old Testament validates that faith is the cause and instrument for both obtaining spiritual victories and for possessing an overcoming endurance of extreme suffering, torture, and martyrdom for Christ’s sake (11:32-38). Since such Old Testament heros received life and lived by faith, Paul concludes, so must the Hebrews endure and overcome by faith if they are to obtain the promise of eternal life (11:39-12:1)—indeed, they must look to and follow the greatest Pattern of all of overcoming endurance, Jesus Christ Himself (12:2-3). As they took up the cross to follow Christ at the moment of their conversion, so must they continue to follow Him. As Habakkuk made clear, the book of Hebrews affirms that the just not only enter into life by faith but also live by faith during their earthly pilgrimage and consequently enter into their promised eternal inheritance. The complete idea taught in Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4 appears, although with differences of emphasis, in all the New Testament quotations of the Old Testament text in James, Galatians, Romans, and Hebrews.
[i] There are many convincing works defending the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, from John Owen’s “Of the Penman of the Epistle to the Hebrews” in his Exercitations on the Epistle to the Hebrews in vol. 17 of his complete works, to Charles Forster’s The Apostolic Authority of the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: James Duncan, 1838), to William Leonard’s Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Critical Problem and Use of the Old Testament(Rome: Vatican Polyglot Press, 1939), to more modern works. However, the testimony of Scripture itself to the Pauline authorship of the Apostle’s 14th epistle is conclusive. 2 Peter 3:15-16 indicates that Paul wrote an inspired epistle, a work that is part of the New Testament canon, to the Jewish diaspora (2 Peter 3:1; 1 Peter 1:1; cf. James 1:1). Since Paul’s other thirteen inspired and canonical epistles are written to specific Gentile churches, the book of Hebrews must be the Pauline epistle that Peter refers to in 2 Peter 3:15-16.
[iii] oJ de« di÷kaioß e˙k pi÷stewß zh/setai: kai« e˙a»n uJpostei÷lhtai, oujk eujdokei√ hJ yuch/ mou e˙n aujtwˆ◊. hJmei√ß de« oujk e˙sme«n uJpostolhvß ei˙ß aÓpw¿leian, aÓlla» pi÷stewß ei˙ß peripoi÷hsin yuchvß.
The critical text corruption that changes Paul’s oJ de« di÷kaioß e˙k pi÷stewß zh/setai into oJ de« di÷kaio/ß mou e˙k pi÷stewß zh/setai in Hebrews 10:38 contradicts the Hebrew text of Habakkuk 2:4 and Paul’s own method of quoting the passage in Romans and Galatians. The Textus Receptus follows 97% of Greek MSS, while the critical text corruption follows the remaining 3%. There is even evidence in the MSS of the LXX for oJ de« di÷kaioß e˙kpi÷stewß zh/setai rather than oJ de« di÷kaio/ß mou e˙k pi÷stewß zh/setai.
[iv] While aÓpw¿leia is a word Scripture reserves, in spiritual judgments, to the unregenerate, peripoi÷hsiß, “saving” in Hebrews 10:39, is employed only of blessings upon the people of God (Ephesians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 10:39; 1 Peter 2:9).
[v] The proud person, the wóø;b wäøvVpÅn hñ∂rVvÎy_aøl h$DlVÚpUo of Habakkuk 2:4a, is the one who draws back (uJpostei÷lhtai) in Habakkuk 2:4a, LXX—the passage identifies him as an unsaved person. Furthermore, “perdition,” aÓpw¿leia, is never used in the New Testament of a spiritual judgment that a saved person can undergo, but is very regularly used of the eternal damnation of the unregenerate (cf. the complete list of uses: Matthew 7:13; 26:8; Mark 14:4; John 17:12; Acts 8:20; 25:16; Romans 9:22; Philippians 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 6:9; Hebrews 10:39; 2 Peter 2:1–3; 3:7, 16; Revelation 17:8, 11). Note also sunapo/llumi for the fate of unbelievers in Hebrews 11:31.
[vii] Compare John Owen’s extensive exposition of chapter 11 in his Exposition of Hebrews.
[viii] Hebrews 10:38; 11:4; 12:23 are the only texts with di÷kaioß in Hebrews, and they all refer to the same sort of person. Those who are the just will live like just Abel, and then enter into the eternal home of just men made perfect.
[ix] eujhresthke÷nai twˆ◊ Qewˆ◊. eujareste÷w appears in the NT only in Hebrews 11:5-6; 13:16. As in Hebrews 11:5-6 those with saving faith please God, so in Hebrews 13:16 God is pleased with the good deeds and charitable sharing with needy fellow Christians that arise out of a heart established with grace, rather than being pleased with the sacrifices performed by the unconverted Jews who would call the Christian Hebrews back to the shadows of the ceremonial law (13:7-17).
[x] Note the continuity demonstrated in the uses marture÷w in Hebrews 11:
11:2 e˙n tau/thØ ga»r e˙marturh/qhsan oi˚ presbu/teroi.
For by it the elders obtained a good report.
11:4 pi÷stei plei÷ona qusi÷an ⁄Abel para» Ka¿iœn prosh/negke twˆ◊ Qewˆ◊, di∆ h∞ß e˙marturh/qh ei•nai di÷kaioß, marturouvntoß e˙pi« toi√ß dw¿roiß aujtouv touv Qeouv: kai« di∆ aujthvß aÓpoqanw»n e¶ti lalei√.
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
11:5 pi÷stei ∆Enw»c metete÷qh touv mh\ i˙dei√n qa¿naton, kai« oujc euJri÷sketo, dio/ti mete÷qhken aujto\n oJ Qeo/ß: pro\ ga»r thvß metaqe÷sewß aujtouv memartu/rhtai eujhresthke÷nai twˆ◊ Qewˆ◊:
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
11:39 kai« ou∞toi pa¿nteß, marturhqe÷nteß dia» thvß pi÷stewß, oujk e˙komi÷santo th\n e˙paggeli÷an,
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
[xi] Hebrews 11:16; cf. 2:11; Romans 9:33; 10:9-11; 1 Peter 2:6.
[xii] Genesis 27, which is referred to in Hebrews 11:20, illustrates both the true faith present in Isaac and that serious sins and manifestations of corruption from indwelling sin can be present in those with saving faith.
[xiii] Note that the section from 11:4-31 begins with a plain statement that acts of faith manifest the presence of spiritual life in the just or righteous and are instrumental in holy practice (11:4) and ends with an indication that those who do not possess those products of faith in the life will perish as unbelievers (11:31).