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Hebrews 11:13 (NKJV)

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, c embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

Hebrews 11:33 (NKJV)

who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

The author of Hebrews lists the heroes of faith, then concludes that they did not receive "the promises" (Hebrews 11:13). But further down he seems to make a U-turn, that they did actually receive "the promises" (11:33).

How can we reconcile the two texts?

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1 Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.
3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. 4 For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; 5 who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."
6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.
-- Hebrews 8:1-7 (NKJV)

In chapter 8 of the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer makes reference to TWO COVENANTS, and that there were promises associated with each. He argues that Jesus is mediator of the second covenant, which is better than the first and is based on better promises.

In chapter 11 the writer lists those who HAD NOT RECEIVED the promises of the second covenant (v. 13), but HAD OBTAINED the promises of the first (v. 33), but BY FAITH, "having seen them afar off were assured" of the promises of the second, also (v. 13).

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    What's the textual justification for thinking that verse 13 references the second covenant, whilst 33 references the first covenant? Those who lived before v13 hadn't even seen the first covenant! Does this all fit with 11:39, which says that both groups had not received the promise? – Steve Taylor Nov 25 '16 at 16:02
  • @SteveTaylor There are only two verses in Chapter 11 that make reference to anyone other than those of faith who died under the first convenant? – enegue Nov 25 '16 at 19:38
  • I'm honestly not sure how that answers my question...? – Steve Taylor Nov 25 '16 at 19:59
  • @SteveTaylor Verse 39 is not one of the two verses. "All these" is referring to those of faith who died prior to the second covenant (of which Jesus is mediator). – enegue Nov 25 '16 at 20:07
  • The point of the passage is that the two covenants speak of the same Promise, though? Plus, v13 is before either covenant? – Steve Taylor Nov 25 '16 at 20:34
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Firstly, it is right enough all those before Abraham did die before the promises of God came into effect on earth, and so it's right enough that verse 13 should divide the list into before-Abraham and after-Abraham.

However, Hebrews 11:39 does yet affirm that the entire group through to the end of the Prophets is in this group of 'not having received', so even Abraham didn't 'receive' the promise he had obtained:

39 And these all, having had witness borne to them through their faith, received not the promise, 40 God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

The key difference is between 'obtaining promises' and 'receiving the promises', which is perhaps a bit cloudier in English than it was in Greek. The NIV, ESV and other modern translations usually make it a bit plainer to us by translating 11:13 as "They did not receive the things promised". Abraham had clearly obtained the promise (see also Heb 6:15), but did not receive the object of the promise itself.

It's the difference between my wife having a promise from me, and receiving the promised thing itself. I can promise her to get her a new phone for Christmas (and she 'obtains' that promise), but that's a different thing from getting the phone itself ('laying hold' of it as with Hebrews 11:13).

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The verses before and after Hebrews 11:33 make clear that different promises are being discussed:

32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again. -Hebrews 11:32-34 (NKJV)

A few men are named, followed by "the prophets" at the end of the list. Specific promises were made to several of these people.

To Gideon was promised military victory:

11 Now the Angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. 12 And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!”

13 Gideon said to Him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.”

14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?”

15 So he said to Him, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”

16 And the Lord said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.” -Judges 6:11-16 (NKJV)

Gideon obtained specific promises of victory over the Midianites.

Jeremiah, one of the prophets, was promised deliverance:

4 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying:

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”

6 Then said I:

“Ah, Lord God!
Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”

7 But the Lord said to me:

“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
For you shall go to all to whom I send you,
And whatever I command you, you shall speak.
8 Do not be afraid of their faces,
For I am with you to deliver you
,” says the Lord. -Jeremiah 1:4-8 (NKJV


20 “And I will make you to this people a fortified bronze wall;
And they will fight against you,
But they shall not prevail against you;
For I am with you to save you
And deliver you,” says the Lord.
21 “I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked
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And I will redeem you from the grip of the terrible.” -Jeremiah 15:20-21 (NKJV)

Jeremiah was delivered several times from the hands of the wicked that were trying to kill him (e.g. Jeremiah 26 and Jeremiah 38). Jeremiah obtained specific promises of deliverance.

The promises spoken of in Hebrews 11:33 are not the same promises referred to in Hebrews 11:13. The promises spoken of in Hebrews 11:13 refer to "the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God."

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. -Hebrews 11:8-10 (NKJV)

The promises not yet received were of a city built by God, and also of a heavenly homeland:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

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The NKJV renders an inadequate translation here for v13. The ESV translates it as "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth." (emphasis added)

This is consistent with v33 and most importantly with v39 which addresses that all the individuals listed in the chapter "did not receive what was promised" (emphasis again added).

All of the Old Testament "heroes of faith" listed received promises but not the actual promise. The thing being promised is a Christian's true homeland (v13-16). There are plenty of Bible passages to expound on what said homeland will be like.

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There is no contradiction in these two verses: Hebrews 11:13; Hebrews 11:33.
The first reference (Hebrews 11:13) is to do with the fact that the promises God made to the patriarchs and which find their fullest expression in the "better promises" of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6), have yet to be fully entered into.

The second reference (Hebrews 11:33) is to the manifold blessings of faith, which, over the centuries have included such things as subduing kingdoms, stopping the mouths of lions, working righteousness and, not least of all, the giving of the promises of God, confirmed in Christ (Romans 15:8) though yet to be fulfilled.

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