This verse is poorly translated in many versions of the Bible. "Worlds" (KJV, NKJV) or "universe" (NIV) is from the Greek word aion, which means "ages." We are living at the end of an age. The Bible speaks of an age that runs from the creation of Adam to the Flood. This present evil world is another age, and the world to come is another age. Other periods of time can be divided into periods of time in which God is shepherding events in a certain direction.
What the author means is, "By faith we understand that the ages were framed, or prepared, by the Word of God." God is guiding and directing affairs on earth. An invisible hand is manipulating events so that the person of faith can understand that history is not an endless cycle of repetition, even though the history of men is full of humanity's repeated mistakes. History is not circular but linear; it is headed somewhere. God is drawing matters to a conclusion; His purpose is building to a climax, though not the ultimate climax yet. That ultimate climax will not come until New Jerusalem is on earth and we are in that Last Great Day, as that is as far as the Bible takes the age of mankind.
Nevertheless, we are coming to the end of an age, and God is framing things. Time and history are moving linearly to the goal that God is bringing about. He is manipulating the course of events, preparing for its consummation. When that conclusion is reached, if by faith we are yielding to God, we will be prepared as He wants us to be because Hebrews 11:3 is part of our operating agenda. We see the hand of God working, not only in the big events of this world, but also in our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Two)
This concept reveals the solid base of faith toward God: that He is Creator and Ruler. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" God Himself demanded of Job. The answer to this question is why we can understand the existence of things by faith.
E.W. Bullinger has an additional thought on this verse that is worth considering. He takes this beyond creation, as the word translated "worlds" is literally aiones or "ages." Thus, the verse is literally stating that God framed or put into order the ages. Zodhiates agrees that aiones indicates ages or times, in contrast with kosmos, often translated as "world," which indicates people as a society. Bullinger shows that God, unseen and sovereign, is not only Creator, but also actively shapes events within the expanses of time. As Jesus says in John 5:17, God is always working, directing the movement of history to bring about His desired ends. Bullinger's approach is to be preferred as more appropriate to the entire epistle.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Three)
We need to understand three words here. The first is "worlds," which is the Greek aion meaning "ages," "periods of time," or "dispensations." The author is not referring at all to the created world—the earth. He means periods of time.
The second word is "framed," which gives the impression of a person building something, but that is not the author's intent. The same word appears in Hebrews 10:5, "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared." This translation points to a different connotation.
The third word is "word." Normally, a Bible student would probably immediately think of logos as being the Greek for "word," but such is not the case here. It is instead the Greek word rhema, which means "the revealed word."
A good paraphrase of verse 3, then, would be: "By faith we understand that the ages were prepared by the revealed word of God." This verse is telling us that there is an unseen hand somewhere that is guiding the course of the periods through which mankind has lived! In other words, God is working out a purpose! People with faith look to the purpose He is working out and what He has revealed, and they see His hand guiding the destiny of nations as well as individuals.
This is an interesting, encouraging, faith-building concept because God is never far from the thoughts of a faithful person. Such a person, because he has had the mystery of God revealed to him—the purpose He is working out—begins to see God in everything that is happening because God is his companion. He has a relationship with Him. Because of his fellowship with God, he tries to see everything through God's eyes, as it were.
When God calls, one of the miracles He works in us by His Spirit gives us insight into His movements in the history of man. The Christian begins to see God in his environment, the earth—and discovers that it is all under God's control.
We can see where God says, "I raise up kings. I put down kings." Sometimes these are "the basest of men," but because we are beginning to think like God, we understand why He does such things. In Romans 13:1-2, we find out that all governments are ordained of God. He at least permits them to govern, and sometimes He directly installs them.
God is guiding and controlling events. Men think they are in control of what is happening, and some even think Satan is in control. No, God is in control. He is working out a purpose, and Satan is subject to Him and can only do what He allows him to do.
The psalmist says that God is not in all of the ungodly man's thoughts (Psalm 10:4). Andre Maurois, a French philosopher and writer, once said, "The universe is indifferent. Who created it? Why are we here on this puny mud heap, spinning in an infinite space? I have not the slightest idea, and I am quite convinced that no one has the least idea." This is the way man looks at things, but Christians had better not look at them like this because they will not operate by faith. If we are operating by faith, we can begin to see events and circumstances in their fuller scope, as well as how they fit and how important they are to the purpose God is working out.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Salvation
We have generally understood this verse to mean that the material creation, which we can clearly see, was produced from invisible spirit. It is certainly a possible meaning, but it is probably not its primary one. In his book, Great Cloud of Witnesses (pp. 12-14), E. W. Bullinger provides an alternative that appears more accurate and fitting within the context of Hebrews 11.
The word "worlds" is translated from the Greek aion, meaning "age," in the sense of a period of time or a dispensation. It derives from a root that means "continued," and it is used as "world" only when "world" gives a better sense of a period of time, not the physical creation. It could be used if one said "the world that then was" or "the world to come."
"Framed" also appears in Hebrews 10:5, where it is more clearly and accurately translated "prepared." It means "to complete thoroughly," "to rule" (even "overrule"), or "to order" (by God in this case). "Word" is not logos but rhema, meaning "revealed words." Finally, "made" is ginomai, which means "to generate," "to cause to be," "to happen," or "to come to pass." It is not the word normally used to indicate God is creating.
Using these definitions, we could translate the verse as, "By faith we perceive by the revealed words of God that the ages were prepared, so that the things we see come to pass not from things that appear." Those of us who walk by faith know that a great Unseen Hand guides, indeed overrules, events on this earth. This verse means that the historical events we read of in God's Word were not chance occurrences, but God was working behind the scenes to bring His purpose to the conclusion He has foreordained. In short, it says, "God controls the march of history." The great men and women listed in Hebrews 11 lived their lives firmly knowing this truth. That is why they could live in faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Promises Are Sure!
This verse is rather difficult in most of our modern English translations. It literally says, "By faith we understand the ages to have been prepared by a saying of God, in regard to the things seen not having come out of things appearing" (Young's Literal Translation).
The key to understanding this verse is the word translated "worlds" in modern Bibles. In the Greek, it is aioonas, which primarily means "ages" or long periods of time whose sum is eternity. For modern translations to understand this to be "worlds" distorts what the author was trying to explain. He is not talking about physical creation of the earth or matter, which "worlds" implies, but about God's sovereignty over the ages of mankind's civilizations. "Framed" is the Greek kateertisthai, meaning prepared, arranged, constituted, set in order—generally, to put a thing in its proper condition.
The Bible speaks of three distinct ages: the time before the Flood, the present, and the age to come (see II Peter 3:6; Galatians 1:4; Matthew 12:32; Luke 18:30; etc.). Other periods of time can be divided into distinct ages: The Babylonian, the Persian, the Greek, the Roman, the Medieval, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Modern, the Postmodern, etc. The author is telling us that the word of God "prepares," "orders," or "arranges" the ages of mankind—in other words, God is sovereignly guiding the affairs of men to bring about His ultimate purpose. As is said to Daniel, "The Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whoever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men" (Daniel 4:17).
We know this by faith—that is, if we truly believe and trust God, that He is almighty, that He is bringing us to perfection, and that He has a purpose He is working out, we know that He is in control. We understand by what we read in His Word that He is working toward His ends, and what goes from His mouth (in terms of law, direction, and prophecy) will come to pass (Isaiah 55:10-11). When God speaks, things happen: It was by God speaking that the earth and everything in it was created (Genesis 1). The same is true of the migrations of nations, their rise and fall, the installation and removal of leaders, as well as the circumstances of His people in the church. God is on His throne, and He is governing His creation.
The last half of Hebrews 11:3 is our "proof": What we see going on in the world (during our age) has not been brought to pass by men but by the invisible God. Men think they are movers and shakers; they think they are in control. But God says here that events on this earth have their ultimate design in the invisible God; He rules over the kingdom of men.
There is an unseen hand manipulating events so that the person of faith can understand that history is not an endless cycle of repetition; it is going somewhere. God is drawing things to a conclusion. We are coming to the end of an age, and God is framing and manipulating events in preparation for this age to climax and end so a new and better age can begin. This verse tells us that we can see the hand of God working, not only in the big events of this world, but also in our lives if we are living by faith (II Corinthians 5:7).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews 11, popularly called "the Faith Chapter," contains the recitation of the names and deeds of several men and women of faith from creation to the time of Israel's entering of the Promised Land. In it, the author—most likely the apostle Paul—presents illustrations from the Old Testament to bear out his opening statement: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony" (Hebrews 11:1-2).
In the lives of individual after individual, he shows that their expressions of faith in God, despite the lack of material evidence, proved they were righteous (verse 4), pleased God (verse 5), and were heirs of righteousness (verse 7). The remarkable acts that they accomplished—from Abel's offering of an excellent sacrifice to Rahab's hiding of the Israelite spies—were done because, believing the Word of God, they envisioned a heavenly future that others could not see.
We see, then, that the heroes of faith not only lived righteous lives in the present, but also moved and acted with a steady eye on the future. Their faith had its foundation in the invisible God whose Word they obeyed, yet their foreknowledge of God's plan for mankind contained in the promises that God gave to them and to Israel also played a major role, one not nearly recognized enough among professing Christians. It was not just the promise of salvation or even of eternal life dangled before them that made them so unflinchingly faithful. It was also their steadfast hope of a better tomorrow in God's Kingdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
David the Prophet
Faith operates within the mental processes. It enables understanding of events that occurred in times past, providing a perspective that we would otherwise lack.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Two): Vision
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Hebrews 11:3: