Faith isn’t a mystical force. As we have seen, faith is believing God and that belief causes us to act in obedience. Faith isn’t a substance as some claim by misunderstanding how the Greek is translated. Let’s take a moment and look at a passage that is often misunderstood, but is very important in understanding faith. Look at Hebrews 11:
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
The King James and the New King James Versions use the word ‘substance’ in this passage. I’m going to use a little Greek here, but don’t let it turn you off. Knowing how words are translated can bring life to passages of the Bible. In Hebrews 11, the Greek word is ‘hupostasis’, which means: to put under, substructure, foundation, steadfastness of mind, confidence, firm trust, assurance, something of substance, or a real being.
While all these words can be used in translation, it should be self-evident that the context in which a word is used must be consistent with how we define the meaning of the word itself. When translating, don’t think of these as multiple choices where we just pick one which suits our fancy. Rather we need to understand that the translation is based on a definition. The Greek word is an idea, and the translator must choose an English equivalent which best conveys that idea into words, and do so while being consistent with what was being communicated in the original Greek.
Even if you don’t know Greek, you can get an understanding of what the word means by looking at all its possible English translations. Taken together, we can understand what is meant by substance by looking at the overall definition of hupostasis. Substance in this instance does not mean that faith has physical properties, but that it has ‘real substance’ in what it assures us of.
When someone makes empty promises, we say that their words have no substance. In other words, there is little assurance someone will fulfill their word if their promises were empty in the past. The opposite also is true. If someone is reliable and keeps their promises, we say their word has substance. This also applies to how hupostasis is translated in the above passage.
The Greek word ‘hupostasis’ is used four other times in the New Testament. Three times it means to boast or have strong confidence, and one refers to the real being of the person of Christ. The English word ‘substance’ is used two other times in the New Testament. Both are in Luke and both are Greek words that mean possessions or wealth. These examples are physical items, but is not the word ‘hupostasis’ as used in Hebrews 11:1.
Clearly this passage in Hebrews is referring to faith as being our firm assurance of things hoped for. As was the case in Jacob’s life, by faith, we also can have the confidence to hope for what we cannot see, knowing God will stand true to his word even if circumstances seem to indicate otherwise. Only by a firm assurance in God’s word can we have hope in the midst of trials and testing.
Excerpt from Simple Faith: How every person can experience intimacy with God.