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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

In the NT, ‘foundation’ represents two different Greek words: ( a ) καταβολή (active, except in  Hebrews 11:11, and always in the phrase καταβολή κόσμου); ( b ) θεμέλιος, -ον (pass.), with both a literal and a figurative meaning ( Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , article‘Foundation’). Cheyne ( Encyclopaedia Biblica , article‘Foundations,’ 1558) says ‘ “corner-stone” and “foundation-stone” are synonymous terms in the Hebrew Scriptures.’ The metaphorical sense of the word chiefly has religious importance for students of the NT, and will be noted as it occurs in the apostolic writings. The figurative use of θεμέλιος goes back to our Lord’s Parable of the Wise Builder-ὅς ἕσκαψε καὶ ἐβάθυνε, καὶ ἕθηκε θεμέλιον ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν-‘who digged and went deep and laid a foundation upon the rock’ ( Luke 6:48).

The significance of the word in the Epistles will be found in an exegesis of the passages, viz.: (1) in  Romans 15:20 St. Paul espressos his determination not to build upon another man’s foundation: ἵνα μὴ ἐπʼ ἀλλότριον θεμέλιον οἰκοδομῶ. He covets the work of a pioneer on new ground, for in the wide field of evangelization (εὐαγγελίζεσθαι) with so much to do and so little done, all narrow jealousies are senseless and to be avoided. He is not desirous to preach in occupied fields; his ambition is to spread the gospel and not to make it the subject of rivalry. The rivalries of the Christian Church in heathen lands, while whole tracts are lying unevangelized, are a sad sight,

(2) To the Church of Christian Corinth, St. Paul writes: ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων θεμέλιον ἕθηκα, ‘as a wise master-builder, I laid a foundation’ ( 1 Corinthians 3:10), and again: θεμέλιον γὰρ ἅλλον οὐδεὶς δύναται θεῖναι παρὰ τὸν κείμενον ὅς ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, ‘for other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ’ ( 1 Corinthians 3:11 Revised Version). J. E. McFadyen ( The Epistles to the Corinthians , London, 1911, p. 50) translates the phrase ‘alongside of (παρά with acc.) the one laid’ and comments: ‘ Jesus is the foundation: the church is founded upon a Person, not upon a system of truths … so that this name is a confession,-the earliest, simplest, profoundest of the church.’ So F. W. Robertson ( Expos. Lectures on St Paul’s Epp. to the Corinthians , London, 1873, pp. 48, 49): ‘Christianity is Christ.… Christianity is a Life, a Spirit’-‘ “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death”.’ Thus St. Paul lays down once for all ‘the absolute religious significance of Jesus, in all the relations of God and man’ (J. Denney, Jesus and the Gospel , London, 1908, p. 23). Denney (p. 380ff.), in the interests of faith and Christian unity, pleads for such a simplification of creeds as will bind men to Christ in the light of St. Paul’s declaration that the building is related to the foundation-stone alone, and not to anything laid alongside: ‘We remain loyal to our Lord and Saviour only because He has apprehended us, and His hand is strong’ (p. 411).

(3) In  Ephesians 2:20 St. Paul describes believers as ἑποικοδομηθέντες ἐπὶ τῷ θεμελίῳ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ προφητῶν, ‘Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.’ The latter are of course NT teachers and exhorters (the omission of the article before prophets indicates members of the same class). They had a special message and function to the Church already gathered out of paganism, in contrast to the missionary and pioneer work of the apostles.

Considerable variety of opinion has been expressed as to the meaning of ‘the foundation of the apostles and prophets.’ A careful summary is given by Salmond ( Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Ephes.,’ 1903, p. 299) of the possible interpretations of the article: ( a ) gen. of apposition = the foundation which consists of apostles and prophets; ( b ) gen. of originating cause = the foundation laid by them; ( c ) gen. of possession . = the apostles’ foundation on which they themselves were built, Ellicott ( Ephesians 3, 1864, in loc .) favours ( a ), so that St. Paul by a change of metaphor ( 1 Corinthians 3:11) presents the apostles and prophets as themselves the foundation, and Christ as the corner-stone ‘binding together both the walls and the foundations.’ But the consensus of interpretations tends to ( b ), the gospel of the apostles and prophets ( Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , ii.), the doctrines which they preached (H. C. G. Moule, Cambridge Bible , 1886, in loc. , also Appendix F, 168f.). G. G. Findlay ( Expositor’s Bible , ‘Ephes.,’ 1892, p. 152) combines ( a ) and ( b )-‘These men have laid the foundation -Peter and Paul, John and James, Barnabas and Silas, and the rest. They are our spiritual progenitors, the fathers of our faith. We see Jesus Christ through their eyes; we read His teaching, and catch His Spirit in their wards.… Nor was it their word alone, but the men themselves-their character, their life and work-laid for the Church its historical foundation. This “glorious company of the apostles” formed the first course in the new building.… They have fixed the standard of Christian doctrine and the type of Christian character.’ In a lesser degree this is true of all religious founders and teachers. For generations the churches bear the impress of the men who gave them their beginning.

(4) The figure of ‘the foundation’ is used in an unusual form (condensed metaphor) in  1 Timothy 6:19 : ἀποθησαυρίζοντας ἑαυτοῖς θεμέλιον καλὸν εἰς τὸ μέλλον, ‘laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come’ (cf.  Sirach 1:15 : καὶ μετὰ ἀνθρώπων θεμέλιον αἰῶνος ἐνόσσευσε, ‘and with men she [Wisdom] built a foundation of everlastingness’). The somewhat involved metaphor is perhaps due to a reminiscence of our Lord’s Parable ( Luke 16:9), but specially of  Matthew 6:20 where the verb is the same and also the duty enjoined: θησαυπρίζετε δὲ ὑμῖν θησαυροὺς ἐν οὐρανῷ, ‘lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.’ Bengel ( Gnom., in loc .) with a happy illustration gives the sense ‘Mercator naufragio salvus, thesauros domum praemissos invenit.’ Cheyne ( loc. cit .) favours the emendation κειμήλιον, ‘gift’ or ‘valued memorial,’ which straightens out the metaphor but at the expense of the text. If there were any authority for the reading, one might agree that this ‘must surely be right.’

(5) In  2 Timothy 2:19 ὁ μέντοι στερεὸς θεμέλιος τοῦ θεοῦ ἕστηκεν, ‘Howbeit the firm foundation of God standeth’ (Revised Version), the Church itself is described as the foundation of a still greater building-‘the holy temple in the Lord in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit’ ( Ephesians 2:21-22). ‘The term “foundation,” here used for the Church of God on earth, is remarkable, and points to a great truth: that, after all, this life is but a beginning, and that “His Church” here is but a foundation-is only the first and early storey of that glorious Church the Divine Architect has planned, and will complete is heaven’ (Ellicott, in loc .; cf. also  Hebrews 11:10). This ‘foundation,’ in reminiscence of ancient custom as to foundation-stones, bears a two-fold inscription, expressing both its origin and purpose: ‘The Lord knoweth them that are his’ (‘the Lord will show who are his, and who is holy’ [ Numbers 16:5]) and ‘let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.’

(6) In  Hebrews 6:1 there occurs the warning μὴ πάλιν θεμέλιον καταβαλλόμενοι, ‘not laying again (and again) a foundation.’ The meaning is apparent from the opening words of the chapter: ‘wherefore let us cease to speak of the first principles of Christ, and press on unto perfection (full growth).’ ‘Let us be borne on to perfection’ in ‘personal surrender to an active influence’ (Westcott, Hebrews , 1892, p. 143). The subject is the duty of progress, and the contrast is between the elementary (νήπιος [ Hebrews 5:13]) and the full grown (τέλειος) in the Christian life. The different elements that constitute the foundation, which is not to be laid again, are three, taken in pairs: (i) personal attitudes of heart and mind: repentance from dead works and faith toward God; (ii) church ordinances: baptism and laying on of lands; (iii) leading beliefs: resurrection and judgment. These are to be accepted once for all-they are the foundation. In the subjects alluded to as foundation facts there is perhaps a reference to some well-known formula for the instruction of the catechumen; perhaps the allusion is to the usual evangelistic presentation of the gospel. ‘The phrase implies that certain things have been done and certain teaching has been given to the readers at the outset of their Christian life as a basis on which more advanced teaching may be built’ (A. S. Peake, ‘Hebrews’ in Century Bible , 1902, p. 141). But such a foundation needs to be laid only once, and the use of it is for subsequent building; therefore progress not only in knowledge, but towards the full maturity of Christian character, is incumbent on all believers.

 Hebrews 6:1 has, it may be feared, been but a counsel of perfection in certain church circles, while ‘to preach the gospel’ has often meant a formal and dry presentation of a few elementary truths, that by wearisome repetition have had all their freshness rubbed away. Yet this has been called ‘dwelling on fundamentals.’ But we do not dwell on a foundation; we build upon it. Many modern evangelistic efforts split upon this rock, and the falling away of professed converts has often arisen from the refusal of them or their spiritual guides ‘to have done with the elementary doctrines and to go on towards full growth.’ The complaint is sometimes heard that the first fresh and joyful emotions are so soon lost; and to revive and recover these, men are tempted, or invited, to go back in thought and desire to some former visitation of the Spirit. But the remedy is not back, but forward. We cannot recover the emotions that are behind, but we can have other emotions and more joyful experiences new-born, by going forward to explore more deeply the great things of God. Therefore the Apostle says: let us surrender ourselves to the influence which will carry us on. ‘The influence and the surrender are continuous (φερὠμεθα) and not concentrated in one momentary crisis’ (Westcott, op. cit. p. 143).

Literature.-In addition to the works cited throughout the article, reference may be made to W. N. Clarke. What shall we think of Christianity  ? 1899, pp. 56-105; Phillips Brooks, The Candle of the Lord , 1892, pp. 68, 69; S. A. Cook, The Foundations of Religion , in The People’s Books; J. Alcorn, The Sure Foundation , 1893, p. 3: W. E. Chadwick, Social Relationships in the Light of Christianity , 1910, p. 154.

W. M. Grant.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

FOUNDATION . Great importance was attached to the laying of the foundation. It was accompanied by human sacrifice, as may be seen in the Babylonian records; a possible trace occurs in the story of Hiel (  1 Kings 16:34 ). Hence the stress on the size and splendour of the foundation, as in Solomon’s Temple (  1 Kings 7:9 ). It is a natural metaphor for the ultimate basis on which a thing rests (  Job 4:19 ,   Ezekiel 13:14 ,   Luke 6:48 ). Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of God’s throne (  Psalms 89:14;   Psalms 97:2 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). ‘The city that hath, the foundations’ is the type of the real and eternal (  Hebrews 11:10 ). The Apostles themselves are the foundation of the New Jerusalem, formed of all manner of precious stones (  Revelation 21:14;   Revelation 21:19 ). ‘The Apostolic Church is conditioned through the ages by the preaching and work of the Apostolate’ (Swete, ad loc.  ; cf.   Isaiah 28:16 ,   Matthew 16:18 ,   Ephesians 2:20 ). In   1 Corinthians 3:10 the metaphor is slightly different, the preaching of Jesus Christ being the one foundation (cf.   Isaiah 19:10 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] , where the word is used of the chief men of the State). In the frequent phrase ‘from the foundation of the world,’ the word is active, meaning ‘founding.’ ‘Foundations’ occurs similarly in a passive sense, the earth being more or less literally conceived of as a huge building resting on pillars etc. (  Psalms 18:7;   Psalms 18:15;   Psalms 24:2 ,   Isaiah 24:18 ). In   Psalms 11:3;   Psalms 75:3;   Psalms 82:5 ,   Ezekiel 30:4 , the idea is applied metaphorically to the ‘fundamental’ principles of law and justice on which the moral order rests. In   2 Chronicles 3:3 ,   Isaiah 6:4;   Isaiah 16:7 ,   Jeremiah 50:15 , RV [Note: Revised Version.] should be followed. In   2 Chronicles 23:5 the ‘gate of the foundation’ is obscurs; possibly we should read ‘the horse-gate.’ See also House, § 3 .

C. W. Emmet.

Holman Bible Dictionary [3]

 Matthew 7:24 1 Kings 5:17 Joshua 6:26 Isaiah 54:11 Revelation 21:19

The Old Testament pictured the earth (dry land) as resting on foundations ( 2 Samuel 22:16;  Psalm 18:15;  Psalm 82:5 ). God is pictured as a builder who marked out the foundations ( Proverbs 8:29 ) and set the stone ( Psalm 104:5 ). The mountains ( Deuteronomy 32:22;  Psalm 18:7 ) and the vault of the heavens ( 2 Samuel 22:8;  Job 26:11 ) are also pictured as resting on foundations. God's great power is expressed in the images of the earth's foundations trembling ( Isaiah 24:18 ) or being exposed ( 2 Samuel 22:16 ) before the Almighty. “From the foundations of the earth” means from the time of creation ( Isaiah 40:21;  Matthew 13:35;  John 17:24 ).

Christ's teaching is compared to a rock solid foundation ( Matthew 7:24;  Luke 6:48 ). Foundation serves as a metaphor for the initial preaching of the Gospel ( Romans 15:20;  Hebrews 6:1-2 which outlines the foundational topics), for the apostles and prophets as the first generation of preachers (  Ephesians 2:20; compare  Revelation 21:14 ,Revelation 21:14, 21:19 ); and for Christ as the content of preaching ( 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 ).

The foundations of  Psalm 11:3 are the foundations of life, security, community, justice, and religion. To lay a good foundation for the future (  1 Timothy 6:19 ) is to be generous and ready to share. The foundation of  2 Timothy 2:19 is an enigma. The context suggests that God's foundation is the core of true believers known only to God. Other suggestions include Christ, God's work, the church, Christ's teaching, and God's eternal law.

Chris Church

Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types [4]

 2 Samuel 22:8 (b) This is a poetic picture from David's fertile mind of the great answer he received from GOD to his petition. (See2Sa  22:16, and  Psalm 18:7,  Psalm 18:15).

 Psalm 11:3 (b) This is a type of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith on which the believer rests his soul for eternity.

 Psalm 87:1 (b) Probably this represents the central truth, and the basic reasons for GOD's activities on the part of Israel.

 Proverbs 10:25 (a) This is a picture of the eternal safety of one who has been made righteous by the living GOD. (See  Ephesians 2:20).

 Isaiah 28:16 (a) GOD has appointed the Lord Jesus Christ His Son, to be the One on and in whom all His works rest. Christ is the beginning, the author, the first and the last, the Alpha and Omega, and the hope of GOD's people. The whole structure of the Church rests on Him (See  Psalm 118:22;  Luke 6:48;  Ephesians 2:20).

 Romans 15:20 (a) The pioneer work of a missionary or a Christian worker is compared to a foundation upon which he builds and prepares the people for further development in the Christian life.

 1 Corinthians 3:10 (b) No doubt this refers to the Gospel that Paul preached and to the doctrines which he ministered. By these the Corinthians were established in the faith. Other men of GOD came along and added to the knowledge and the faith of these believers.

 1 Timothy 6:19 (a) By this is meant the true faith, intelligent trust and a clear understanding of GOD's truth on the part of GOD's children.

 2 Timothy 2:19 (a) By this type we are assured that those who belong to Christ Jesus may rest safe and secure on GOD's Word about us, and to us.

 Hebrews 6:1 (a) The six experiences mentioned here represent the bedrock of Christian faith. From these we grow up into a greater temple of GOD as we learn additional truths, and enter more and more into the knowledge of GOD's work, His Word, and His way.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [5]

The word itself implies what it expresses, the basis and ground-work of a building. But in Scripture language it means Christ, the foundation God hath laid in Zion, and on which Jehovah hath built his church; and against which the gates of hell can never prevail. It is very blessed to see the ground and bottom on which this rests. It is founded in the purpose, counsel and will of JEHOVAH. The everlasting love, the everlasting wisdom, the everlasting power of God in which all the Persons of the Godhead are in the great design blended, all concur and all unite. And what endears it to the church, and gives a permanency and security to the whole is, that it is unchangeable, eternal, and for ever. And Christ in the united nature of God and man, becomes the sure foundation to give firmness and stability to it. He is the wonderful Person on whom it is built; the Rock of ages. So that he, and he alone, in the purposes of JEHOVAH, gives certainty to all that is included in redemption, for grace here and glory to all eternity. Well might the apostle in the contemplation of it say, "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, Jesus Christ." ( 1 Corinthians 3:11) And blessed is the corresponding experience and testimony of true believers in the heart, when built upon the foundations of apostles and prophets, "Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone; they are in all the building fitly framed, and growing together unto an holy temple in the Lord." ( Ephesians 3:20-21)

King James Dictionary [6]

FOUNDA'TION, n. L. fundatio, fundo.

1. The basis of an edifice that part of a building which lies on the ground usually a wall of stone which supports the edifice. 2. The act of fixing the basis. 3. The basis or ground work, or any thing that on which any thing stands, and by which it is supported. A free government has its foundation in the choice and consent of the people to be governed. Christ is the foundation of the church.

Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone - a precious cornerstone.  Isaiah 28 .

Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 3 .

4. Original rise as the foundation of the world. 5. Endowment a donation or legacy appropriated to support an institution, and constituting a permanent fund, usually for a charitable purpose. 6. Establishment settlement.

Webster's Dictionary [7]

(1): ( n.) That upon which anything is founded; that on which anything stands, and by which it is supported; the lowest and supporting layer of a superstructure; groundwork; basis.

(2): ( n.) That which is founded, or established by endowment; an endowed institution or charity.

(3): ( n.) The act of founding, fixing, establishing, or beginning to erect.

(4): ( n.) A donation or legacy appropriated to support a charitable institution, and constituting a permanent fund; endowment.

(5): ( n.) The lowest and supporting part or member of a wall, including the base course (see Base course (a), under Base, n.) and footing courses; in a frame house, the whole substructure of masonry.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [8]

foun - dā´shun  : In Hebrew the words for "foundation" are mostly derivatives from יסד , yāṣadh , "to found," and in Greek two words are used: one, καταβολή , katabolḗ , of "foundation of the world" ( Mark 13:35; 25:34;  Luke 11:50;  John 17:24 , etc.); the other, θεμέλιος , themélios , of the foundation of a building ( Luke 6:48 ,  Luke 6:49;  Luke 14:29;  Acts 16:26 , etc.), in which sense it is also used metaphorically in various connections (Christ the foundation of the church,   1 Corinthians 3:11; or the apostles and prophets the foundation, with Christ as corner-stone,  Ephesians 2:20; the foundation of repentance,  Hebrews 6:1 , etc.). In  Psalm 11:3 , "if the foundations be destroyed," the Hebrew word is shath ̌ . In  Jeremiah 50:15 , the Revised Version (British and American) reads "bulwarks" for "foundations"; conversely in  Psalm 89:14;  Psalm 97:2 , for the King James Version "habitation," the Revised Version (British and American) reads "foundation," and in  Isaiah 6:4 for the King James Version "posts," reads "foundations."