Faith and Belief — πιστεύω pistĕuō

Strong, J. (1996). The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

πιστεύω pistĕuō, pist-yoo´-o; from 4102; to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), i.e. credit; by impl. to entrust (espec. one’s spiritual well-being to Christ):— believe (-r), commit (to trust), put in trust with.

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, pp. 375–376). New York: United Bible Societies.

πιστεύωb; πίστιςb, εως f: to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance—‘to believe in, to have confidence in, to have faith in, to trust, faith, trust.’

πιστεύωb: ὃς δ’ ἂν σκανδαλίσῃ ἕνα τῶν μικρῶν τούτων τῶν πιστευόντων εἰς ἐμέ ‘if anyone should cause one of these little ones to turn away from his faith in me’ Mt 18:6; ἐπίστευσεν δὲ Ἀβραὰμ τῷ θεῷ ‘Abraham trusted in God’ Ro 4:3; ὁ πιστεύων ἐπ’ αὐτῷ οὐ μὴ καταισχυνθῇ ‘whoever believes in him will not be disappointed’ 1 Pe 2:6.

πίστιςb: ἔχετε πίστιν θεοῦ ‘you have faith in God’ Mk 11:22; ἤκουσεν αὐτοῦ περὶ τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν πίστεως ‘he listened to him (as he talked) about faith in Christ Jesus’ Ac 24:24; ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται ‘he who is righteous because of his faith shall live’ Ro 1:17; ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ‘we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus’ Col 1:4.

In rendering πιστεύωb and πίστιςb it would be wrong to select a term which would mean merely ‘reliance’ or ‘dependency’ or even ‘confidence,’ for there should also be a significant measure of ‘belief,’ since real trust, confidence, and reliance can only be placed in someone who is believed to have the qualities attributed to such a person.

Parks, D. M. (2003). Faith, Faithfulness. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 547–551). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

FAITH, FAITHFULNESS Contemporary English word “faith” derived from the Latin fides. Today faith denotes trust. Faith does not function as a verb in contemporary English; the verb “to believe” has replaced the verb “to faith.” The English noun “faithfulness” denotes trustworthiness or dependability.

The Biblical Concept The concept of faith has been radically redefined in some philosophical and theological circles during the past century. Those definitions rarely address the complexities of the biblical concept, a concept in which the whole person, the physical world, God’s Word, and God Himself play crucial roles. Those alternative definitions often do not grasp the objective and subjective characteristics of biblical faith.

Throughout the Scriptures faith is the trustful human response to God’s self-revelation via His words and His actions. God initiates the relationship between Himself and human beings. He expects people to trust Him; failure to trust Him was in essence the first sin (Gen. 3:1–7). Since the fall of humanity God nurtures and inspires trust in Him through what He says and does for the benefit of people who need Him. He provides evidence of His trustworthiness by acting and speaking in the external world to make Himself knowable to people who need Him. Thus, biblical faith is a kind of limited personal knowledge of God.

Hebrew Terminology The most significant Hebrew word for faith is aman, a root word that denotes reliability, stability, and firmness. Aman concretely meant to support or to uphold, as for example the strong arms of a parent would uphold an infant. Those arms are sure, certain, and firm. Forms of this root were used metaphorically to describe faith (a human response to God) and faithfulness (a virtue of God and his servants). When employed to describe relationships between God and people, aman is used to express a complex concept. It describes both the subjective and objective nature of trust in God and an objective quality of God Himself. God, who exists objectively outside of human beings, receives trust generated from within individuals (Deut. 7:9). He and His words are objectively faithful, constant, and reliable (Ps. 119:86). God enables people to possess these objective virtues, faithfulness and reliability (Josh. 24:14; Isa. 7:9).

Another significant Hebrew word used to convey the idea of faith is yareʾ, usually translated “to fear.” Yareʾ occurs more often in the OT than aman, although the two express very similar concepts. To fear God is to believe Him with a reverential awe, even to the point that emotional trepidation occurs. To fear Him is to maintain a firm conviction that the Lord’s directives are reliable (Ps. 119:89–91), protective (Ps. 33:18–19), and beneficial to the believer (Ps. 31:19). Someone who fears God dreads disappointing Him, but the fear of the Lord produces joy and fulfillment in the life of the one who fears (Eccles. 12:13). “To fear the LORD” is used synonymously with “serve Him in sincerity and truth” in Josh. 24:14. An element of human responsibility resides in this fear; “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (24:15). God does not force faith upon unwilling people. He presents His expectations and promised benefits to people, but their freedom to choose and to receive the consequences of their choices remain (Deut. 30:19). Refusal to choose Him can be followed by God’s hardening the unbeliever’s resistance (Exod. 10:20).

Like aman, the Hebrew root yareʾ reveals much about the objective and subjective characteristics of genuine faith. Old Testament authors used “the fear of the LORD” to underscore the importance of submission to God through what He has revealed objectively; this submission should occur subjectively in the minds, wills, and emotions of people who trust God’s word. This submission results in objective behavior that reflects God’s character.

As the OT period progressed, God gave more information about how He planned to empower more people with genuine faith or “the fear of the LORD.” Through Jeremiah, for example, God predicted that He would make an everlasting covenant through which he would enable people to fear him forever (Jer. 32:40). God describes a covenant in which He will write his law on the hearts of His people and allow them all to know Him personally (31:33–34). God’s description reveals that to fear Him is to know Him personally. Such a relationship empowers people to please Him. OT prophets decried human inability to maintain this kind of fear toward the Lord.

Theme of Faith in the Old Testament The OT provides a clear definition of faith in the context of the unfolding purpose of God to redeem. God makes faith possible by providing for human beings verbal information about Himself and His plans; this information is connected to His redemptive actions in the world. These words and actions combine to offer an objective basis for the faith (Exod. 4:29–31). His words interpret and explain His saving acts so that people may receive from Him the blessings that the acts make available (Exod. 12:21–28; Deut. 11:1–11; and Isa. 55:1–3). Just as one may know another human by the words and actions of that human, so God has chosen to become knowable through His words and actions.

A consistent theme of salvation by faith can be traced through God’s acts and deeds in the OT. People were saved by faith in God’s self-revelation during that period, just as they would be saved through faith in His self-revelation during the NT period and beyond. God has always required faith as the proper response to His self-revelation.

Two pivotal OT passages reveal the theme of salvation by faith. Abram was proclaimed “righteous” by God when Abram believed God’s promise (Gen. 15:6). In this verse a form of aman is used to describe Abram’s response to what God said He planned to do for Abram. Abram linked himself to God through that promise, becoming convinced internally of the reliability of the promise-maker. Abram’s confidence prompted God to label Abram “righteous,” completely acceptable in relationship to God. Abraham would go on to prove God’s label was accurate. After years of seeing God’s faithfulness, Abraham would obey God’s call to sacrifice Isaac, to which Yahweh said “now I know you fear God” (Gen. 22:12). Abraham’s faith was the kind of faith that withstood a serious test, showing therefore that Abraham’s faith was synonymous with the fear of the Lord.

A second thematic statement appears in Hab. 2:4, “the righteous will live by his faith.” The nation of Judah was facing an enormous threat to its future existence, the Babylonian army, sent by God to judge Judah. But God offered a promise that the righteous will survive and thrive through the judgment. Because they believe the God who promises, they are “righteous.” Habakkuk 2:4 would be interpreted as a scriptural thematic statement by the Apostle Paul in the NT and seen as a hermeneutical key to understanding how God consistently relates to people. He justifies them by faith.

Genesis 15:6 and Hab. 2:4 unveil a grand soteriological principle: God saves people (whenever or wherever they may live) who trust sincerely both Him and what He says about how they can properly relate to Him. Both verses reveal that saving faith in the OT is viewed as a response to a verbal revelation from God about Himself, about His plan for the future, and about the accessibility of God and His future to a human in need. This verbal revelation is propositional; it is communicated in statements made by God. Those statements contain claims about the present and the future. God’s modus operandi during the OT and NT periods was to make Himself knowable through words about how people can relate properly to Him. Those words are not the object of the believer’s faith; God is the object. But His words mediate faith in Him. His words guide people to Him. Without the words, no one would know how to respond properly to Him. Old Testament believers praised God for revealing His word of salvation (Ps. 56:4).

New Testament Amplification The dominant NT term for faith is the Koine Greek word pistis, usually translated “faith.” It conveys the idea of trust, a firm internal conviction regarding the truthfulness of someone or some claim. The verb form, pisteuo, is usually translated, “I believe” or “I trust.” Pistis and pisteuo in the NT correspond to the OT terms aman and yareʾ. Pistis also appears in the NT with the definite article to describe particular Christian beliefs, termed “the faith.”

New Testament writers often show continuity with the OT’s concept of faith. Paul argues that Abram’s experience provides a model for how God continues to save by faith (Rom. 4). Paul’s citation of “the righteous will live by faith” (HCSB) supports his arguments in his letter to the Romans (1:17) and the Galatians (3:11). Just as was true prior to the coming of Christ, it is impossible after the coming of Christ for someone without faith to please God (Heb. 11:6).

Faith in the NT continues to be a personal trustful response to God’s self-revelation, although the content of that self-revelation has increased dramatically with the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. In the NT faith toward God responds to that which God has revealed verbally and actively in Jesus Christ. As the incarnate Son of God, Jesus is the perfect means by which one may know God (John 17:3).

In words and in actions God the Father made available in Christ His personal and propositional revelation. In the death and resurrection of the Son, the Father communicated His love, His justice, and His mercy (Rom. 5:8). These events, especially the resurrection of Christ, were interpreted by the NT writers as evidence that God had declared that Jesus is the unique Son of God (Rom. 1:4).

God communicated not only through His actions in Christ; He also communicated verbally. Jesus appointed apostles as His personal representatives (Matt. 10:2–4). In the power and under the leadership of God’s Spirit, the apostles broadcast through their teachings and/or writings this propositional revelation. For example, John states plainly that his Gospel was written to help people believe (John 20:31). God provided actions and words to enable people to understand what He had done and can do for them in Christ.

Underscoring the objective nature of Christian faith, “the faith” was used by NT authors when referring to the essential Christian doctrines or propositions to which believers held (Acts 6:7; 14:22; Gal. 1:23; 3:25). Those doctrines help to mediate the object of the faith, God in Christ. Paul calls upon his readers to examine whether their beliefs are consistent with “the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5).

Role of Faith in Justification The euangelion or gospel, embodies the core beliefs by which saving faith in Christ can be mediated and whereby He can be known. According to 1 Cor. 15 the euangelion’s objective veracity was evidenced by Jesus’ postresurrection appearances. The Apostle Paul challenged readers to examine eyewitness evidence for the resurrection of Christ (15:1–6). God makes an enormous amount of evidence available from historical witnesses to the resurrection. Jesus did pronounce a blessing on those who believe without seeing His resurrected body, but eyewitnesses to that resurrected body were made available by Him (John 20:29; Acts 1:8). See Justification.

Paul was even willing to concede that, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christian faith is meaningless and useless (1 Cor. 15:14–19). Christ’s resurrection would be evidence that God wants people to believe that Jesus is the solution to human sinfulness, but without the resurrection people cannot rightly draw such a radical conclusion. Thus, the resurrection of Jesus serves at the primary historical basis for Christian faith.

Faith in Christ is based on the evidence of the testimony of eyewitnesses, but the evidence is not an end in itself. The gospel must be heard and understood before faith can happen; faith occurs when someone moves through the words and the evidence and “calls upon” or asks Christ to save (Rom. 10:9–13). To ask Christ to save is to trust what God says the death of Christ makes available, particularly regarding forgiveness and freedom from sin’s power. When God saves, the believer internally identifies Christ’s death as the death of his or her own sin (Rom. 6:1–14), making genuine and consistent obedience to God possible for the future. This is the kind of faith that will prove its genuineness by the transformed life God produces through it, as occurred with Abraham (James 2:14–26). Saving faith is never merely a superficial or verbal response. Nor is it merely an intellectual acceptance of the claims of the gospel. The kind of faith by which God justifies sinners moves through acceptance of those claims to Christ Himself.

An element of subjective personal choice is retained in the NT concept of faith (Luke 13:34). People still must choose, but this subjective choice should be understood in light of the objective elements that guide and empower the choice. Underscoring the subjective nature of the choice, saving faith occurs within the person’s “heart,” where the Holy Spirit illuminates the person’s need of what Christ has done and can do for the person (Rom. 10:9–10; 1 Thess. 1:5). Recognition of need always precedes saving faith. God’s Spirit enables someone to understand how Christ’s death and resurrection were for the hearer. God gives the unbeliever the capacity to choose to trust God through what He says through His human witnesses about Christ. God’s Spirit also bears witness by personally applying the words of the gospel internally to the hearer. The Spirit activates, guides, and empowers the choice.

If God left humans totally untouched by the work of the Spirit, then humans would naturally choose against God (Rom. 1–3). The Spirit “gives” Christian faith, enabling people to trust what God says He has done and will do to save. Faith, therefore, is a spiritual gift (Rom. 12:3). No one will be able to boast of self-produced saving faith; God chooses to enable some people to believe (Eph. 2:8–9). He alone deserves praise for producing faith within people. A paradoxical tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is maintained in the NT’s depiction of saving faith.

Role of Faith in Sanctification God allows the testing of faith in order to sanctify the believer, as occurred with Abraham (James 1:2–8; 2:14–26). God uses trials to test and to grow the quality of the faith of believers, to prove that His justification of them was an accurate appraisal. He desires that they grow in their relationship to Him that He might produce Christ’s virtue of faithfulness within them (Matt. 25:21). As Christians learn to trust what God says they possess in Christ, they can discover freedom from sin and the power to glorify God as Christ produces his character in them (Eph. 1:15–23). God’s Spirit enables sanctification in the same way that He enables justification, through faith in what God says He has done and will do in Christ (Gal. 3:1–5; 5:25).

Faith yields in the believer a confidence or sense of assurance as he or she continues to trust God through His promises (Heb. 11:1). This confidence becomes possible when a believer can identify with the help of the Spirit of God ways God has transformed him or her (Rom. 8:13–16; Phil. 3:10; 1 John 2:3; 3:14; 5:18–20). New Testament authors unashamedly refer to this confident faith as a knowledge of God, albeit a partial knowledge (1 Cor. 13:9). Only when Christ returns and consummates His kingdom will faith be unnecessary for the Christian. Then this knowledge of God will not be partial.

The Holy Spirit gives to some Christians a special charisma or grace-gift of faith whereby they discern God’s will and trust God accordingly in particular situations where His will has not been objectively revealed (1 Cor. 12:9). For example, some Christians have been given the ability to discern God’s will to heal a sick person and to pray successfully for the healing (James 5:15). All Christians have a gift of faith (Rom. 12:3) but not the gift (charisma) of faith, given to some for the purpose of ministry.

Conclusion The God of the Bible has consistently related to people via trust in what He says and does. Biblical faith is a complex idea; God, His word, His actions, the whole human being, and the physical world all play critical roles. When saving faith occurs, God has enabled someone to know Him through His revelation of Himself in words and actions in Christ. God Himself activates faith in the hearer of His word, enabling that hearer to become faithful in Christ, just as He is faithful (Rev. 19:11).

D. Mark Parks