Friday, August 5

By Faith Abraham or By Faith Sarah?

This is the sixth post in a series from Hebrews 11. You'll find all the posts done so far in this series listed here.

In the previous text from Hebrews 11, it tells us that because of his faith, Abraham left his homeland and lived the rest of his life as someone without an earthly homeland. Now the writer of Hebrews moves on to something else, but the original text is ambiguous as to exactly where he's going. Does he move on to an another example of Abraham's faith, or on to the faith of another person--Abraham's wife, Sarah?

The translation I've been using so far in this series, the NET Bible, translates as if it this were an additional example of Abraham's faith.
By faith, even though Sarah herself was barren and he was too old, he received the ability to procreate, because he regarded the one who had given the promise to be trustworthy. So in fact children were fathered by one man—and this one as good as dead—like the number of stars in the sky and like the innumerable grains of sand on the seashore. (Hebrews 11: 11-12 NET)
However, you'll find that some other versions translate verse 11 as if only Sarah's faith is in view. Here's what the ESV says:
By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.

Why the uncertainty? It's all because of that little phrase translated "ability to procreate" or "power to conceive" in these translations, which is really "power to deposit semen," so what we've got is something like, "By faith also Sarah [her]self received power for the depositing of seed, even beyond the time of age." You can see where the confusion comes in, can't you? The text seems to be talking about Sarah, but the action taken is exclusive to men.

Its a bit of a puzzle, solved in a couple of possible ways. Some suggest that the word "seed" should to be taken to mean "descendents" rather than "semen", and then the whole phrase is speaking of the ability to have offspring. That's how we get the translations that say that Sarah recieved "power to conceive" or "strength to conceive seed" (NKJV).

On the other hand, some take the bit about Sarah to be parenthetical, and that's how the NET gets it's phrasing. The NIV takes the text this ways, too: "By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father..." This last option has the gist of the context on it's side. It's Abraham's faith in view before these verses, and Abraham's faith again after, so isn't it most likely that it's Abraham's faith being written about here?

Then there's the problem of Sarah herself. Did she show faith? In Genesis 18 she laughs in disbelief when she overhears the men telling Abraham that she will have a son. However, Sarah's initial lack of faith doesn't mean she didn't have faith later. Perhaps, if the verse is speaking of Sarah's faith, it points us to Sarah's continued cooperation with Abraham, which would indicate that after her original reaction, she came, in the end, to an attitude of faith.

Anyway you take it--and I tend to think that it's primarily about Abraham's faith, but in this section, Sarah is included with him--two old geezers had a baby because they considered God who had promised them a son to be trustworthy to keep his promises. And it wasn't just a baby they received, but too many descendents to count--"like the number of stars in the sky and like the innumerable grains of sand on the seashore"--all from one old man "as good as dead."

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