Makestraightpaths.com examines the teachings of the religious group variously
known as “the Family,” “The Family International,” the “Children of God,” or the
“Family of Love,” and evaluates these teachings from a Christian perspective.
This page is one in a series examining the Family teachings about spirit helpers.
Cloud of Witnesses
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding
us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so
easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is
set before us. NASU
One of the most
controversial Family teachings concerns their long-standing belief that
Christians may freely communicate with “spirit helpers.” To the Family,
spirit helpers are people who have died, or angels, or other
spiritual beings who are active in the ‘spirit world,’ an unseen
dimension that coexists with the visible material world. According to
the Family, these beings are unrestricted by human limitations and
actively assist Christians in their work for the Lord.
The writer of the book of
Hebrews makes mention of a "great cloud of witnesses" that "surrounds"
believers. He then urges his readers to "lay aside" both encumbrances
and sin in order that they may "run with endurance" the "race" that is
set before them (Hebrews 12:1).
The Family interprets
this verse as support for their long-standing belief in spirit helpers,
that is, they believe that the spirits of the dead may assist the living
in various ways. This assistance may be (according to the Family) a word
of encouragement, specific guidance when making decisions, a prophetic
message or even physical manipulation of people or events in order to
best accomplish God's will. The Family believes that the "great cloud of
witnesses" in Hebrews 12:1 refers to believers who have died - as
exemplified by the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews chapter 11 - and
who are now actively involved in providing assistance to Christians. The
Family acknowledges that the reference to "running the race" is a
metaphor that may be applied to the struggles of Christian life, but
insists that the "great cloud of witnesses" is not metaphorical. Rather,
they teach that these people are literally present, literally
surrounding believers in order to provide assistance.
This teaching about
spirit helpers originated with the founder of the Family, Berg/ Dad, and
quickly became one of the Family's core doctrines. Berg/ Dad
acknowledged that this doctrine was controversial, and tried to show
that the Bible actually supported his views.
This pages looks at
Hebrews 12:1 in light of the Family's teachings about spirit helpers in
order to determine the meaning of the "great cloud of witnesses."
book of Hebrews
The book of Hebrews was written by an unknown author to
some unknown recipients. It is assumed that the recipients were of
Hebrew origin because the book repeatedly refers to Jewish religious
customs, the Old Testament and numerous Jewish historical figures.
Among other theological themes, the book of Hebrews
demonstrates the superiority of Jesus Christ – in comparison to the
angels, in comparison to Moses, as a high priest, in his ministry, in
the privileges the believer may obtain, and in the behavioural outcomes
of the believer. It is possible that, under the inspiration of the Holy
Spirit, the author was addressing a heresy that was creeping into the
church in which the role of Jesus was downplayed. Of course, without
Jesus as the high priest of salvation, there could be no salvation at
all, so the writer urges his readers to be sure not to neglect Him.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding
Many commentators believe
that the first few verses of Hebrews chapter 12 actually forms the
conclusion to chapter 11. This is supported by the first word in Hebrews
12:1 "therefore." Although the English word "therefore" occurs many
times throughout the New Testament, the Greek word that is used in
Hebrews 12:1 occurs only twice, here and in 1 Thessalonians 4:8. It is
used to introduce the conclusion to something that has gone before.
introducing a conclusion with some special emphasis or formality,
and generally occupying the first place in the sentence, wherefore
then, for which reason, therefore, consequently (Thayer's Greek
serves as the conclusion to Hebrews chapter 11.
The word "cloud" refers
to a large group; it expresses the unity of the group rather than the
individual components. It is used only in Hebrews 12:1.
a cloud; a large, dense multitude, a throng (Thayer's Greek Lexicon)
The word "cloud"
literally refers to a shapeless mass covering the sky (a mass of
clouds). Here in the only NT use, nephos figuratively refers
to a crowd or throng, especially emphasizing the number.
Aristophanes in his play, The Frogs, uses the concept of clouds as
witnesses. The picture of a cloud describing a crowded group of
people is a common classical figure and expresses not only the great
number of people, but also the unity of the crowd in their witness.
John Calvin derives
an excellent application from "cloud" writing that, "Had they (the
witnesses) been a few in number, yet they ought to have roused us by
their example; but as they were a vast throng, they ought more
powerfully to stimulate us. He says that we are so surrounded by
this dense throng, that wherever we turn our eyes many examples of
faith immediately meet us. (Commentary
Precept Austin on Hebrews 12:1
The Greek word
"witnesses" comes from the same word as "martyr." It does not simply
mean "spectator" but one who can bear testimony to what he or she has
a witness (one who
avers, or can aver, what he himself has seen or heard or knows by
any other means); a. in a legal sense: Matt 18:16; 26:65;
Mark 14:63; Acts 6:13; 7:58; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19; Heb 10:28. b.
in an historical sense: Acts 10:41; 1 Tim 6:12; (2 Tim 2:2); one who
is a spectator of anything, e. g. of a contest, Heb 12:1; c.
in an ethical sense those who after his example have proved the
strength and genuineness of their faith in Christ by undergoing a
violent death: Acts 22:20; Rev 2:13; 17:6.
The following information
is sourced from
(martus > root of our English "martyr") is one who has information
or knowledge of something and hence can bring to light or confirm
According to B F
Westcott, "There is apparently no evidence that martus is ever
used simply in the sense of a ‘spectator." (Westcott, B F: Epistle
to the Hebrews)
Knowledge Commentary agrees noting that witnesses "This does not
mean that they watch believers today." (Walvoord,
J. F., Zuck, R. B., et al: The Bible Knowledge Commentary. 1985.
comments that the men and women of Hebrews 11"are the “cloud” that
witnesses to us, “God can be trusted! Put your faith in His Word and
keep running the race!” When you read the Old Testament, your faith
should grow, for the account shows what God did in and through
people who dared to trust His promises (Ro
When you read the Gospels, you see the greatest example of endurance
in Jesus Christ." (Wiersbe,
W: With the Word: Chapter-by-Chapter Bible Handbook. Nelson or
explains that through the examples of the witnesses it is as though
the writer was saying "that faith is sufficiently proved by their
testimony, so that no doubt ought to he entertained; for the virtues
of the saints are so many testimonies to confirm us, that we,
relying on them as our guides and associates, ought to go onward to
God with more alacrity." (Commentary
S Lewis Johnson
writes that in interpreting the witnesses "Many picture the saints
who have gone before as spectators in the stadium. So we as
Christians are running a race with the spectators observing us. Even
your loved ones may be looking down and they are watching you
carefully. This may be a motivation for you to run well. If I knew
that Moses, and Paul and all the prophets were there watching, that
would indeed be an incentive for me. However, that is not what he
is talking about. Rather it is the lives which faithful men have
lived and the stories found in the Scriptures which are witnesses to
us. It is not what we see in our spectators that is to move us, but
what we see in the Scriptures!...So as we look at these men and
women, there should come to our minds this conviction - that the God
of yesterday is also the God of today. In other words, the things
that God did through Enoch, through Noah, through Abraham, through
Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, the things that God did through
them, He is able to do today (through you and through me
beloved)!." (Bolding added)
In a parallel
teaching Paul explained to the saints at Rome that "whatever
was written in earlier times (referring to the Old Testament) was
written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the
encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope".
W E Vine
writes that the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 "were spoken
of as those who had witness borne to them (Heb 11:2, 3, 4, 5, 39);
here they are themselves witnesses. Not that those who are now with
Christ are spectators of earthly persons, but that, as to the
persons mentioned in chapter 11 , their lives of faith are so
recorded in the Old Testament narratives that they seem to be living
spectators urging us on to run as they did. The inspired record is
like an amphitheater, and, as with the cloud of onlookers of old, so
these heroes of faith utter their voices in the sacred page. As we
read of their trials and triumphs, they, so to speak, “compass us
about.” The writer of the epistle is here testifying to the
permanence and vividness of the records of Scripture". (Vine,
W. Collected writings of W. E. Vine. Nashville: Thomas Nelson or
And so if you think
you're experiencing problems with your family, read about Joseph's
problems in Genesis! If you think your job is too big for you, study
the life of Moses. If you are tempted to retaliate, see how David
handled the problem the continual curses from Shimei of the house of
Saul. All of these examples, and specifically those in the Hebrews
"hall of fame" chapter 11 are given for our reference that we might
be instructed, convicted and encouraged to run the race with
A number of well
known, usually excellent expositors of Scripture such as Marvin
Vincent, Henry Alford, F B Meyer, et al, seem to have missed the
context and see these saints in Hebrews 11 as spectators looking
down from heaven observing the lives of those on earth. But the
writer of Hebrews does not call them spectators (which was another
specific Greek word) but witnesses. Even reference to the definition
of witnesses as those who give an account of what they have seen by
their words and by their actions would counter the interpretation of
this cloud as indicative of spectators. Witnesses give testimony,
offer evidence of actual events and generally present evidence based
on their direct personal knowledge. It is as if the reader is
sitting in a courtroom, and have just listened to the testimony of
the witnesses of Hebrews 11.
In short, the context
as well as the definition of the Greek word martus, indicate that
the witnesses in Hebrews 11 are not spectators looking on. Instead,
the intent of the writer is that in view of the faith the lives of
these men and women bear witness to, the reader is exhorted to
finish the race exercising a similar faith and endurance. We have
all begun by faith, are to daily walk by faith (Col 2:6-note) and
must run to "finishing tape" by faith. Be encouraged by the
witnesses of Hebrews 11, who all bear testimony that the race can be
run successfully and that the rewards are great.
F. F. Bruce
explains that those in Hebrews 11 are witnesses in the sense "that
by their loyalty and endurance they have borne witness to the
possibilities of the life of faith. It is not so much they who look
at us as we who look to them -- for encouragement."
Precept Austin on Hebrews 12:1
Bob Deffinbaugh writes:
The word that is employed by the author –
rendered “witnesses” in our translation – is a translation of
the Greek word which would be transliterated “martyr.” Biblical
scholars have pointed out that at this point in time, the word meant
“witness” and that sometime later, when persecution became more
intense, it came to convey the sense of being an actual martyr – a
witness who died for his or her testimony to Jesus. Perhaps so, but
let us not forget that these “witnesses” included those who
did suffer greatly and die because of their faith (Hebrews
11:35b-38). I believe the original readers of this epistle would
have understood this.
The imagery our author employs is not that of a
cemetery, as though the runners can look about and see the
tombstones of those who have gone before us. Rather, the author
speaks of this multitude of witnesses as those who are still alive,
and who are actively cheering us on till we reach the finish line.
Just as we have been told that Abel is still speaking (Hebrews
11:4), so here the heroes of the hall of faith are still
participants in the race, now as spectators or witnesses, rather
than as runners. They are very much attuned to what is going on in
this world. ...
I do believe that the “also” should not
be omitted in the translation because it informs the readers that we
have a connection with those who make up this “great cloud of
witnesses.” As they lived by faith, so must we. As they failed
at times, so will we. As their faith was sometimes rewarded with
success, and at other times with suffering, this will likewise be
our experience. As they persevered in faith, living in the present
in the light of their eternal reward, so should we.
I have focused on verse 1, and primarily on the
term “also,” but let us not overlook the fact that all three
verses of our text focus on the believing readers of Hebrews as a
corporate body of believers, as a large group of contestants who are
running a race. Changing the imagery, this is not a solo event; it
is the performance of a choir, accompanied by a large orchestra.
Losing Weight by Bob Deffinbaugh.
The witnesses are the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11.
They include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. Gideon is
there, as well as Samuel, David and Samson. There are also a number of
unnamed people some of whom saw miracles, while others died as martyrs.
Some did mighty deeds, others apparently lived in poverty and
The stories of their
lives stand as inspiration for believers for all time. They
were ordinary people who allowed
God to use them in mighty ways, yet who also experienced the depths of
despair and defeat.
For example, Samson (Heb
11:32) was indeed mightily used by God to defeat his enemies, in spite
of his own imperfections and sins, in spite of the cruelty inflicted
upon him by his enemies. Abraham became the 'father of faith,' but he
had to endure the torment of God telling him to
plunge a knife into his beloved son’s heart. He is a
"witness" that God's ways are indeed best.
The passage says nothing
about spirit helpers. It does not imply that the saints of Hebrews 11
are physically present, whether for assistance or for encouragement. It
says that their lives are a witness of the blessings of complete trust
in God, and that they have earned the right to testify through their
suffering. But it does not say that they function as spirit
There is nothing anywhere in Hebrews chapter 11 or 12
that implies that the text might be referring to spirit helpers.
It appears that the Family is taking the verse out of
context in order to find support for an unbiblical doctrine.
Precept Austin on Hebrews 12:1. There are many resources at this
site. Highly recommended.
Losing Weight by Bob Deffinbaugh
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