Hebrews 12:2

aphorontes eis tes pisteos archegon kai teleioten Iesoun

Owen’s third clear scripture is a reference to “Jesus as the ‘author and finisher of our faith.’” It is not exactly clear how Owen sees this as supporting his case, as he does not enlarge upon the verse. By its placement here we must assume that Owen interprets “author” to mean the one who causally originates faith in believers, and who does so directly by his death on the cross. The correctness of this assumption receives support from Owen’s exegesis of this verse in his later commentary on Hebrews. Here we read that Jesus is proposed as the object of our attentive gaze, a ‘looking’ which Owen says “denotes an act of faith or trust, with hope and expectation,”32by his office or work.” Jesus can be said to be ‘author and finisher of our faith’ on account of “procurement and real efficiency.”

He by his obedience and death procured this grace for us. It is “given unto us on his account,” Phil. 1: 29. … And he works it in us, or bestows it on us, by his Spirit, in the beginning and all the increases of it from first to last… So he is the “author” or beginner of our faith, in the efficacious working of it in our hearts by his Spirit; and lithe finisher” of it in all its effects, in liberty, peace, and joy, and all the fruits of it in obedience; for “without him we can do nothing.”33

Owen mentions three other senses in which Christ as ‘author and finisher of our faith’ may be considered as the object of our ‘looking,’ as the revelation of the object of our faith, as the example of the obedience of our faith, and as the guide, helper and director of our faith, but he concludes his discussion of the phrase by emphasizing that it has primary reference to Jesus as the efficient worker of our faith.

It is true, that in all these senses our faith from first to last is from Jesus Christ. But that (mentioned) in the first place is the proper meaning of the words; for they both of them express an efficiency, a real power and efficacy, with respect unto our faith. Nor is it faith objectively that the apostle treats of, the faith that is revealed, but that which is in the hearts of believers.34

Thus for Owen the primary sense of archegos is that of efficacious worker of faith in our hearts. Is this correct?

The Context: The author is seeking to encourage his readers to persevere in faith even in the face of hardship, alluded to as a past reality (10:32-34) and a present possibility (12 :4-11). He has expressed his conviction that they are those who do not shrink back but have faith (10: 39) and presented them with the example of the Old Testament saints who persevered in faith. In the light of their example they too are to ‘run with patience the race that is set before’ them. As a further resource for this perseverance they must keep on looking to Jesus who faithfully persevered in doing the Father’s will and through the hardship thus experienced triumphed. They must consider Him that they might not grow weary. Jesus is thus being presented as ton tes pisteos archegon kai teleioten as an encouragement to faith, whose triumphant example of faith they must heed.

“Our faith” or “faith”? The personal possessive pronoun ‘our’ is absent from the Greek text. Many translations have introduced ‘our,’35 but is this either necessary or desirable? Ellingworth, who supports this translation, writes

writes no stress can be laid on the use of the article as such, but pistis is usually anarthrous in Hebrews, and where the article is used (4:2, 13:7) it refers to the faith of specified groups.36

Thus he finds here a reference to the faith of the author and his readers, and indirectly to that of Old Testament believers. Ellingworth is correct in his first two observations but his suggestion that the article “refers to the faith of specified groups” is an unhappy turn of phrase. Robertson, considering the article under the heading “As the equivalent of a possessive pronoun,” states “the article does not indeed mean possession. The nature of the case makes it plain that the word in question belongs to the person mentioned.”37 It is the context of each individual reference which determines whether the specificity that the article gives is best translated by an English possessive pronoun or otherwise, and three occurrences of the article with pistis are insufficient to claim to establish a pattern of use, especially where alternate explanations for the use of the article in those contexts is available.38 In Heb. 4: 2 whose faith is being spoken of is indicated by the participle ten pistin, and the article is more likely to be present as a generic article, emphasising that the word met with no faith at all. In Heb. 13: 7 English legitimately translates ten pistin as ‘their faith’ not because the article refers to a group of people but because the definiteness imparted to ‘faith’ makes it plain that it could be the faith of no others but ‘your leaders.’ It is this definiteness that also accounts for the use of the possessive in the English translation of 11:39, not mentioned by Ellingworth. How then to consider the use of the article in 12:2? While it may be a generic use, faith abstractly considered, it is better with Peterson to see an anaphoric sense, picking up on the presentation of ‘faith’ in the preceding chapter.39 Understood in this way

the ‘faith’ of which the Apostle speaks is faith in its absolute type, of which he has traced the action under the Old Covenant.

Westcott continues, in the light of his whole understanding of the passage, to reject the idea that it is our subjective believing that is in view here:

The particular interpretations, by which it is referred to the faith of each individual Christian, as finding its beginning and final development in Christ; or to the substance of the Christian Creed; are foreign to the whole scope of the passage, which is to shew that in Jesus Christ Himself we have the perfect example – perfect in realisation and effect – of that faith which we are to imitate, trusting in Him.40

The sense of archegon kai teleioten: archegos appears in the New Testament at Acts 3: 15, 5:31 and Hebrews 2:10 and 12:2. According to Bauer it is capable of a number of somewhat overlapping senses – leader, ruler, prince; one who begins; or originator, founder.41 Because of what Coenen calls the ” relatively unambiguous use” of archegos in the LXX for ‘leader’ this sense has been argued by a number of commentators for its use in Heb. 2: 10 and 12: 2. Thus Peterson, having found that the primary sense of archegos in 2:10 was that of leader or pathfinder, sees that emphasis also in 12: 2, as the intent of the passage concerns the comparison of Jesus’ experience with that of believers. “Christ is ‘forerunner’ and ‘example’ for his people in the life of faith.”42 However, Jesus is not just an example of a greater faith than the Old Testament saints. While judging

those commentators correct who see the primary reference here to the exercise of faith by Christ himself, . . . the preceding emphasis on the uniqueness of his personal achievement is not forgotten. Indeed, because Christ has given faith ‘a perfect basis by his high-priestly work,’ his faith, and what it achieved both for himself and for others, becomes a greater incentive for faith on our part than the faith of OT saints. His faith is thus ‘qualitatively’ and not just ‘quantitatively’ greater than theirs.43

Even where the sense of ‘beginner’ is preferred because of its contrast with teleiotes the emphasis continues to be on the example of Jesus, the one who starts and completes the road we all must run, and in doing so makes our following possible.44 Teleiotes, found only here in the New Testament and related to the significant perfection terminology of Hebrews, heightens this emphasis on Christ as our example, presenting him as the One in whom “faith has reached its perfection.”45

Thus we see that in the eyes of many modern commentators neither context, syntax nor semantics support Owen’s contention that the primary reference of the phrase is to Christ as the efficacious worker of faith in our hearts, and their arguments seem convincing. Owen’s ‘purchase of faith’ still awaits a text….

Chambers, N.A. “A Critical Examination of John Owen’s Argument for Limited Atonement in the Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” (Th.M. thesis, Reformed Theological Seminary, 1998), 211-217. [Some reformatting; old style title emphasis converted to italics; italics original; underlining for side-headers original; and inline underlining mine.]


32John Owen An Exposition of th Epistle to the Hebrews, with Preliminary Exercitations 7 Volumes. Ed. W. H. Goold [The Works of John Owen 23 Volumes Ed. W. H. Goold] [Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 854-55: reprint Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991]. Vol. 7 [23], p. 237.

33ibid p.238.

34ibid p. 239.

35For a list see William L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13 Word Biblical Commentary, [Waco: Word Books, 1991], p.399 note k.

36Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews. A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993] , p.640.

37A. T. Robertson A Grammar of the. Greek. New Testament, p. 769

38Perhaps a pattern could be established from an examination of the author’s treatment of all abstract nouns, where the use of the article can be difficult. BDP §258.

39“Faith must be understood here with reference to the preceding chapter, as something exercised by the ‘cloud of witnesses’ and preeminently by Jesus himself.” David Peterson, Hebrews and Perfection, SNTS monograph series 47, [Cambridge: C.U.P., 1982], p.171.

40Brooke Foss Westcott The Epistle to the Hebrews 2nd edition [1892: reprint Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980], p. 395. With this concur F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews NICNT, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964], p. 351; Peterson, Perfection, pp. 171-2 [note the Du Plessis quote] and Lane, Hebrews 9-13, : “In the context of 11: 1-40, ‘faith’ must be understood absolutely, and not as the subj ecti ve act of Jesus in the individual, as if to say that our faith finds its point of origination and final development in Christ. II p. 399. Contra Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary. Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1984), p.368. “As originator and perfecter of our faith, Jesus has laid its foundation in our hearts and in time brings faith to completion.” No argument is given for or against this position.

41BAGD, 112.

42Peterson, Perfection, p. 171. See also Westcott, Hebrews, p. 395 who notes at 2: 10 that the archegos “himself first takes part in that which he establishes.” This emphasis on example is also seen in James Moffatt. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle to the Hebrews ICC, [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1924], p.196.

43Peterson, Perfection, 172-3. Lane. Hebrews 9-13, 412.

44Ellingworth, Hebrews, 640.

45Bruce, Hebrews, 352. cf. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, 411-12; Peterson, Perfection, 171; Moffatt, Hebrews, 196.

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