Hebrews 11:11-12 Commentary

Hebrews 11:11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive *, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: Pistei kai aute Sarra steira dunamin eis katabolen spermatos elaben (3SAAI) kai para kairon elikias, epei piston egesato (3SAMI) ton epaggeilamenon; (AMPMSA)

Amplified: Because of faith also Sarah herself received physical power to conceive a child, even when she was long past the age for it, because she considered [God] Who had given her the promise to be reliable and trustworthy and true to His word. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

Barclay: It was by faith that Sarah, too, received power to conceive and to bear a son, although she was beyond the age for it, for she believed that he who gave the promise could be absolutely relied upon. (Westminster Press)

NLT: It was by faith that Sarah together with Abraham was able to have a child, even though they were too old and Sarah was barren. Abraham believed that God would keep his promise. (NLT - Tyndale House)

Phillips: It was by faith that even Sarah gained the physical vitality to become a mother despite her great age, and she gave birth to a child when far beyond the normal years of child-bearing. She could do this because she believed that the one who had given the promise was utterly trustworthy. (Phillips: Touchstone)

Wuest: By faith Sarah herself also received power as regards the deposition of seed, and that when she was past age, because she considered Him faithful who promised. (Eerdmans)

Young's Literal: By faith also Sarah herself did receive power to conceive seed, and she bare after the time of life, seeing she did judge Him faithful who did promise;

BY FAITH EVEN SARAH HERSELF RECEIVED ABILITY TO CONCEIVE: Pistei kai aute Sarra steira dunamin eis katabolen spermatos elaben (3SAAI): (Ge 17:17, 18, 19; 18:11, 12, 13, 14; 21:1,2; Lk 1:36; 1Pe 3:5,6)

Faith (4102)(pistis) is synonymous with trust or belief and is the conviction of the truth of anything, but in Scripture speaks of belief respecting man's relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it. As pistis relates to God, it is the conviction that God exists and is the Creator and Ruler of all things well as the Provider and Bestower of eternal salvation through Christ. As faith relates to Christ it represents a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through Whom we obtain eternal salvation and entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Stated another way, eternal salvation comes only through belief in Jesus Christ and no other way.

For more discussion on the meaning of faith see commentary on Hebrews 11:1-2.

Faith is believing that God will keep His promises, despite circumstances that seem to be to the contrary! True faith that saves one's soul includes at least three main elements - (1) firm persuasion or firm conviction, (2) a surrender to that truth and (3) a conduct emanating from that surrender. In sum, faith shows itself genuine by a changed life. (Click for W E Vine's definition of faith)

Spurgeon on Sarah's faith - this holy woman is enrolled among these saintly ones. Her faith was not all it ought to have been, but God saw that it was true faith, and He loved it, and He wrote the record of it.

Conceive (2602) (katabole from kataballo = to throw down from kata = down + ballo = throw, cast) is literally a casting down or laying down. The original idea was the laying down of the foundation of a house.

Katabole is translated “to conceive,” which in reality means Abraham’s discharge or seed. It is used in the pass. because the seed was received by Sarah. Her conception was not only due to the natural process, but also to faith that the placement of Abraham’s seed in her would, in spite of her advanced age, result in the birth of a child according to the promise given to Abraham.

Katabole was a technical term for putting seed into the ground, it is also used of the role of the male in impregnating the female and there is one such use in Hebrews 11:11-note, referring to the casting in or sowing of seed, conveying the idea of begetting.

Wuest - The word katabole means originally “a throwing down,” hence, here the depositing of the male seed in the womb. The sentence may be explained either, “received strength as regards the deposition of seed,” to fructify it, or, “received strength for the foundation of a posterity.”

TDNT adds that katabole meant “laying down” is used for, e.g., the casting of seed, human begetting, the sowing of war, and the establishment of government.

Ten of the 11 NT uses of katabole (there are no uses in the LXX) are in the phrase "foundation of the world". Here are the uses in Hebrews...

Hebrews 4:3 (note) For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, "As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest," although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.

Hebrews 9:26 (note) Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Hebrews 11:11 (note) By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised;

EVEN BEYOND THE PROPER TIME OF LIFE: kai para kairon elikias:

Proper time (2540)(kairos [word study]) means a point of time or period of time, time, period, frequently with the implication of being especially fit for something and without emphasis on precise chronology. It means a moment or period as especially appropriate the right, proper, favorable time (at the right time).

Kairos can refer to a fixed and definite time, the time when things are brought to crisis, the decisive epoch waited for or a strategic point in time. Kairos speaks of a limited period of time, with the added notion of suitableness ("the suitable time", "the right moment", "the convenient time"). Kairos refers to a distinct, fixed time period, rather than occasional moments.

Kairos is not so much a succession of minutes (Greek chronos 5550), but a period of opportunity. In other words, kairos defines the best time to do something, the moment when circumstances are most suitable, the psychologically "ripe" moment.

At 90 (Genesis 17:17), Sarah was long past the proper time or season for child-bearing and in fact had never been able to conceive. God enabled her, however, because of her faith in His promise

Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. (Genesis 21:1-3).

SINCE SHE CONSIDERED HIM FAITHFUL WHO HAD PROMISED: epei piston egesato (3SAMI) ton epaggeilamenon (AMPMSA): (He 10:23; Ro 4:20,21)

Heb 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;

Spurgeon on considered Him faithful - And that was good judgment, was it not? There is no mistake about that. Whatever difficulties may lie in the way, we may always know that he is faithful who has promised. You are not past age, my brother. God will bless you in seeking to do good. You are not past age, my sister. Have faith in God, and then in your old age you may bring many to the Savior’s feet. He is faithful who has promised.

Faithful (4103) (pistos from peitho = to persuade - induce one by words to believe, have confidence) is something or someone who is worthy of faith or keeps promises and is applied to God, humans, His Word, etc

Vincent gives a nice summary (expanded in the discussion that follows) of the meaning of pistos, faithful, writing that it is used - (1), of one who shows Himself faithful in the discharge of a duty or the administration of a trust (Mt 24:45). Hence, trustworthy (2Ti 2:2). Of things that can be relied upon (2Ti 2:11). (2), Confiding; trusting; a believer (Gal 3:9; Acts 16:1; 2Cor 6:15; 1Ti 5:16) (Word Studies in the New Testament)

Webster says that Faithful means firm in adherence to whatever one owes allegiance and implies unswerving adherence to a person or thing or to the oath or promise by which a tie was contracted.

Pistos is used in two senses in the NT active and passive - 1) ACTIVE = trusting or believing - This is the less frequent usage. This sense speaks of a sinner exercising faith in the Lord Jesus. In the first NT use in this sense, Jesus "said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing." (Jn 20:27) Paul instructs Timothy to "let those who have believers (pistos) as their masters not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but let them serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers (pistos) and beloved. Teach and preach these principles." (1Ti 6:2) When pistos is used in this active sense to refer to the faith which a lost sinner must place in the Lord Jesus in order to be saved, it includes the following ideas -- the act of considering the Lord Jesus worthy of trust as to His character and motives, the act of placing confidence in His ability to do just what He says He will do, the act of entrusting the salvation of his soul into the hands of the Lord Jesus, the act of committing the work of saving his soul to the care of the Lord. This means a definite taking of one’s self out of one’s own keeping and entrusting one’s self into the keeping of the Lord Jesus. Thus Paul says "So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer (pistos)." (Gal 3:9) Using a striking contrast, Paul asks "what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?" (2Cor 6:15) Luke records that Paul "came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek." (Acts 16:1) Note also that with regard to believers, they are spoken of sometimes in the Active sense (as "believers") and sometimes in the Passive (as "faithful"). The New Testament concept of faith includes three main elements, mutually connected and requisite, though according to circumstances sometimes one and sometimes another may be more prominent (1) a fully convinced acknowledgement of the revelation of grace; (2) a self-surrendering fellowship (adhesion); and (3) a fully assured and unswerving trust (and with this at the same time hope) in the God of salvation or in Christ. (Modified from Cremer)

2) PASSIVE = trustworthy or faithful - which is the use here in Hebrews 11 - Here the basic idea is that of trustworthiness. In this sense pistos describes God, Christ, servants, His Word as faithful, reliable, worthy of belief or trust, , , dependable. Marvin Vincent adds that pistos used of God describes Him as "True to his own nature and promises; keeping faith with Himself and with man." Paul writes that even "if we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself. (2Ti 2:13-note) Pistos in this passive sense is used of one who shows Himself faithful in the discharge of a duty or the administration of a trust "Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time?" Mt 24:45. Hence, pistos describes the one who is trustworthy "And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also." (2Ti 2:2-note). Of the Word of God (which is the sense pistos is used in Titus 1:9) that can be relied upon "It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. (1Ti 3:1)"It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. (2 Timothy 2:11-note)In this passive sense of trustworthy or faithful, pistos is applied to God as fulfilling His own promises (He 10:23-note; He 11:1-note), as fulfilling the purpose for which He called men (1Th 5:24-note; 1Cor 1:9), as responding with guardianship to the trust reposed in Him by men (1Co 10:13; 1Pe 4:19-note). Christ is faithful (2Th 3:3; He 3:2-note; He 2:17-note; Rev 19:11-note) Christ as the faithful witness (Re 1:5-note; Re 3:14-note). God’s and Christ's faithfulness in these verses speak not only of His essential being (faithful is Who He is), but also of His faithfulness toward us, as shown for example in the famous verse "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1Jn 1:9) In the papyri, we find the following illustrations of the use of pistos -- "Whom no one would trust even if they were willing to work" = confidence in the person’s character and motives. "I have trusted no one to take it to her" = confidence in the ability of another to perform a certain task. Moses in turn records the following of God writing "Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful (Lxx = pistos) God, Who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments." (Dt 7:9) Notice the seal of assurance stamped upon God's covenant. It is backed up by His faithful character.

Sarah looked away from herself and her barrenness and her age and banked on her Faithful God for the fulfillment of his promise that she would have a child and be the mother of many nations. This didn't come easy for Sarah. In fact, when she heard God make the promise to Abraham, she laughed to herself and did NOT believe (Ge 18:12). But then God rebuked her for the laughter of unbelief, and said, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Ge 18:14,15). And the next thing we hear from Sarah is a word of exultation to God when Isaac is born. She says, God has made laughter for me; every one who hears will laugh over me... Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would suckle children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age. She gives God the glory for the child, and so we may assume, with the writer to the Hebrews, that God's rebuke, and the reminder that nothing is too hard for the Lord, restored Sarah's faith and caused her to hope in God.


Steven Cole writes that...

Faith overcomes insurmountable problems by God’s power (He 11:11, 12).

Abraham and Sarah were unable to conceive children. God promised them not only a son, but also nations of descendants. To underscore the promise, God changed his name from Abram (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of a multitude”). Then God promised, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you” (Ge 17:5, 6). But the problem was, not only were Abraham and Sarah unable to conceive children; also, they were both past the time in life when anyone normally could conceive.

There is a difficult interpretive issue in our text, reflected in the difference between the NASB, which makes Sarah the subject of the sentence, and the NIV, which makes Abraham the subject. The problem with making Sarah the subject is that the phrase “received the ability to conceive” is literally “power for the laying down of seed” (NASB, margin), an exclusively male function. Without getting too technical, probably the sense of the NIV is correct, even though Abraham is not named in the verse (in Greek). There is a textual variant that describes Sarah as “barren.” If it is original, the sense would be, “By faith, even though Sarah was barren, he [Abraham] received power to beget …” (A Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament, Bruce Metzger [United Bible Societies], 4th ed., p. 602). The final phrase would read, “since he considered Him faithful who had promised.”

This view also alleviates another problem, namely, that in the account in Genesis 18, Sarah is rebuked for her unbelief rather than commended for her faith. When the Lord confronts her, she denies, rather than confesses, her unbelief. Probably, in spite of her initial doubt, she eventually came to believe God’s promise as Abraham did. But if Abraham is the subject of He 11:11, then the emphasis is on his faith, not on Sarah’s faith. There are two lessons in these two verses:

A. Rather than focusing on human impotence, faith focuses on God’s power and faithfulness (He 11:11).

In Genesis 18:14, the Lord rebukes Sarah’s unbelief with the rhetorical question, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” He goes on to restate the promise, that at the appointed time the next year, Sarah would have a son. She and Abraham rested on God’s faithful character. Since He promised, He would do it.

We need to be careful in applying this. It is easy to misapply promises in the Bible out of their context, and then become disappointed when God doesn’t do what we think He promised. The problem does not lie with God, of course, but with our misunderstanding of how to apply His promises.

For example, many Christians claim that if we have faith in God, He has promised to heal us from all our diseases. I have heard of these mistaken saints going to the bedside of a terminally ill Christian and accusing him of not having enough faith to be healed! That is cruel! God has not promised healing from every disease to those who believe. If He had, people of faith would live forever. I’ve never known of a faith healer that lived past 100! In fact, several prominent ones died relatively young!

At the same time, we would be wrong not to trust God to do far beyond our human abilities. Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). He is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20-note). Our faith is not in ourselves or in our faith, but in God who is faithful.

(See "B" Below) (Hebrews 11:8-12 The Nitty-gritty of Faith) (Link to all of Pastor Cole's sermons - highly recommended)

Hebrews 11:12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE. (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: dio kai aph' enos egennethesan, (3PAPI) kai tauta nenekromenou, (RPPMSG) kathos ta astra tou ouranou to plethei kai os e ammos e para to cheilos tes thalasses e anarithmetos.

Amplified: So from one man, though he was physically as good as dead, there have sprung descendants whose number is as the stars of heaven and as countless as the innumerable sands on the seashore. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

Barclay: So from one man, and he a man whose body had lost its vitality, there were born descendants, as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, as countless as the sand upon the seashore. (Westminster Press)

NLT: And so a whole nation came from this one man, Abraham, who was too old to have any children—a nation with so many people that, like the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them. (NLT - Tyndale House)

Phillips: So it happened that from one man, who as a potential father was already considered dead, there arose a race "as numerous as the stars", as "countless as the sands of the sea-shore". (Phillips: Touchstone)

Wuest: And therefore there sprang from one, and this one a dead man, even as the stars of the heaven in multitude and as the sand beside the lip of the sea innumerable. (Eerdmans)

Young's Literal: wherefore, also from one were begotten--and that of one who had become dead--as the stars of the heaven in multitude, and as sand that is by the sea-shore--the innumerable.


At 99, Abraham was well beyond the age to father children apart from divine intervention (Ge 17:1,15, 16, 17; 21:1-5).

Spurgeon on who is him as good as dead - Perhaps the reference is to Abraham, who was as good as dead, being so old; or to Isaac, who was as good as dead, for he was laid upon the altar, and was practically “offered up” as a sacrifice unto the Lord. There were many deaths to work against the life of faith, yet life triumphed over death after all.

AS MANY DESCENDANTS AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE: kathos ta astra tou ouranou to plethei kai os e ammos e para to cheilos tes thalasses e anarithmetos: (Ge 15:5; 22:17; 26:4; Ex 32:13; Dt 1:10; 28:62; 1Chr 27:23; Neh 9:23; Ro 4:17) (Ge 22:17; 32:12; Josh 11:4; Jdg 7:12; 1Sa 12:5; 2Sa 17:11; 1Ki 4:20; Is 10:22; 48:19; Jer 33:22; Ho 1:10; Hab 1:9; Ro 4:18; 9:27; Rev 20:8)

As many descendants as the stars - This is clearly hyperbole which stresses the vastness of the population that would come from Abraham’s loins, but even more it emphasizes the greatness of the lovingkindnesses of the Lord to give such a gracious promise.

John MacArthur - Your faith in Christ will influence future generations. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful Christian heritage. In fact, I’m the fifth generation of preachers in our family. The faith of my predecessors has had an enormous impact on my life—either directly or indirectly. I have the same responsibility they did to influence others for good, as do you.

Hebrews 11:11–12 gives a very personal example of how one man’s faith influenced an entire nation. Verse 11 is better rendered: “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise” (NIV).

God had promised Abraham that he would become the father of a great nation (Gen. 12:2). But Sarah, Abraham’s wife, had always been barren, and both of them were advanced in years. At one point Sarah became impatient and decided to take things into her own hands. She persuaded Abraham to have a son by her maid, Hagar (16:1–4). That act of disobedience proved to be costly because Ishmael, the child of that union, became the progenitor of the Arab people, who have been constant antagonists of the Jewish nation.

Despite his times of disobedience, Abraham believed that God would keep His promise. God honored Abraham’s faith by giving him not only Isaac, the child of promise, but descendants too numerous to count. One man’s faith literally changed the world!

Similarly, the faith you exercise today will influence others tomorrow. So, be faithful and remember that despite your failures, God “is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20). (Drawing Near)

Steven Cole writes that...

B. Rather than focusing on answers in this life, faith trusts God to keep His word in His time (He 11:12).

What did Abraham get in this life for his life of faith? He was uprooted from family and friends, never to see them again. If he had a house in Ur or Haran, it was his last. He lived the rest of his life in tents, moving from place to place. He lived to see Isaac, the son of the promise, born. He lived 15 years after the birth of Jacob, but he didn’t see any of Jacob’s sons. He did not live long enough to get even a hint of the fulfillment of God’s promise to multiply his descendants as the stars or the sand. The only piece of Canaan that he owned was a burial plot. As He 11:13 states, he “died in faith, without receiving the promises.” As we’ve already seen, Abraham’s faith was focused on eternity, not on this life only.

One of the most important lessons in the school of faith is to learn that God’s time is not our time. From Abraham’s time frame, even though he lived for 175 years, God’s promises failed. He died with one son and two grandsons, hardly an innumerable nation! But from God’s time frame, the true children of Abraham, those who believe in Abraham’s seed (Christ) number in the billions! From our limited time frame, certain events don’t fit with God’s promises. But from His time frame, He who promised is faithful.


George Muller of Bristol exemplified the nitty-gritty of a life of faith. After being a wild youth, he was converted in his early twenties. He obeyed God’s call by living a life of faith and obedience. He lived in a manner that the world could not fathom. He and his wife sold all of their earthly possessions, founded an orphanage, and lived by faith alone, making their needs and those of the orphans known only to God in prayer. They often faced insurmountable problems that were overcome by faith in God’s power.

In 1877, Muller was on board a ship that was stalled off the coast of Newfoundland in dense fog. The captain had been on the bridge for 24 hours when Muller came to see him. Muller told him that he had to be in Quebec by Saturday afternoon. The captain replied, “It is impossible.”

“Very well,” said Muller, “if your ship cannot take me, God will find some other way-I have never broken an engagement for 52 years. Let’s go down to the chart room and pray.” The captain wondered what lunatic asylum Muller had escaped from.

“Mr. Muller,” he said, “do you know how dense this fog is?”

“No, my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, Who controls every circumstance of my life.”

Muller knelt down and prayed simply. When he had finished, the captain was about to pray, but Muller put his hand on his shoulder, and told him not to: “First, you do not believe He will; and second, I believe He has, and there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.” The captain looked at Muller in amazement.

“Captain,” he continued, “I have known my Lord for 52 years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to get an audience with the King. Get up, captain, and open the door, and you will find the fog is gone.” The captain walked across to the door and opened it. The fog had lifted. (From, Roger Steer, George Muller: Delighted in God [Harold Shaw Publishers], p. 243.)

I wish I could tell you stories like that from my own experience, but I cannot. But George Muller and Abraham should challenge us to grow in the life of faith in the God who is faithful. Obey God’s call to salvation by faith. Live as an alien in this world by faith. Ask God by His power to overcome the insurmountable problems you face by faith.

Discussion Questions

Is the call to discipleship (following Christ) different than the call to salvation? What difference does it make?

Why is saving faith necessarily obedient faith? How would you answer the charge that this confuses faith and works?

What are some practical implications of living as a pilgrim?

How can we know if specific promises in the Bible apply directly to us today? (Index to Pastor Steven Cole's sermons by Bible book - Highly Recommended - They read much like a verse by verse commentary)