Click to donate today!
Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
FAITH . Noun for believe , having in early Eng. ousted ‘belief’ (wh. see) from its ethical uses. By this severance of noun and vb. (so in Lat. fides credere , French foi croire ) Eng. suffers in comparison with German ( Glaube glauben ) and Greek ( pistis pisteuÃ´ ). But ‘faith’ has a noble pedigree; coming from the Latin fides , through Norman-French, it connotes the sense of personal honour and of the mutual loyalty attaching to the pledged word.
1. In OT . This word, the normal NT expression for the religious bond, is found but twice in the OT (EV [Note: English Version.] ) in Deuteronomy 32:20 , signifying steadfastness, fidelity; and in Habakkuk 2:4 , where a slightly different noun from the same Heb. stem (contained in amen and denoting what is firm, reliable ), may carry a meaning identical with the above ‘the just shall live by his faithfulness ’ (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). The original term has no other sense than ‘faithfulness’ or ‘truth’ elsewhere so in Psalms 37:3 (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) Psalms 96:13 , Deuteronomy 32:4 (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), Isaiah 11:5 etc.; the context in Hab., however, lends to it a pregnant emphasis, suggesting, besides the temper of steadfastness , its manifestation in steadfast adherence to Jehovah’s word; under the circumstances, passive fidelity becomes active faith ‘the righteous’ Israel ‘shall live’ not by way of reward for his loyalty, but by virtue of holding fast to Jehovah’s living word (cf. Isaiah 1:12 ). If so, St. Paul has done no violence to the text in Romans 1:17 , Galatians 3:11 . The corresponding vb. (from the root amen: in active and passive, to rely on , and to have reliance or be reliable ) occurs above 20 times with God, His character, word, or messengers, for object. More than half these examples (in Ex., Dt., Ps.) refer to faith or unbelief in the mission of Moses and Jehovah’s redemptive acts at the foundation of the national Covenant. The same vb. supplies two of Isaiah’s watchwords, in Isaiah 7:9; Isaiah 28:16 . The former sentence is an untranslatable epigram ‘If you will not hold fast, you shall have no holdfast!’, ‘No fealty, no safety!’; the latter leads us into the heart of OT faith, the collective trust of Israel in Jehovah as her Rock of foundation and salvation, which, as Isaiah declared (in Isaiah 8:12-15 ), must serve also for ‘a stone of stumbling and rock of offence’ to the unfaithful. This combination of passages is twice made in the NT ( Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:6-8 ), since the new house of God built of Christian believers rests on the foundation laid in Zion, viz. the character and promise of the Immutable, to whom now as then faith securely binds His people. In Habakkuk 1:5 (cited Acts 13:41 ) Israel’s unbelief in threatened judgment, in Isaiah 53:1 ( John 12:38 , Romans 10:16 ) her unbelief in the promised salvation, coming through Jehovah’s humiliated Servant, are charged upon her as a fatal blindness. Thus the cardinal import of faith is marked at salient points of Israelite history, which NT interpreters seized with a sure instinct. At the head of the OT sayings on this subject stands Genesis 15:6 , the text on which St. Paul founded his doctrine of justification by faith (see Romans 4:9; Romans 4:22 , Galatians 3:6; also James 2:23 ); ‘and Abraham believed Jehovah, and he counted it to him for righteousness’ (JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] ) a crucial passage in Jewish controversy. St. Paul recognized in Abraham the exemplar of personal religion, antedating the legal system the faith of the man who stands in direct heart-relationship to God. Genesis 15:6 supplies the key to his character and historical position: his heart’s trustful response to Jehovah’s promise made Abraham all that he has become to Israel and humanity; and ‘the men of faith’ are his children ( Galatians 3:6-8 ). Only here, however, and in Habakkuk 2:4 , along with two or three passages in the Psalms ( Psalms 27:13; Psalms 116:10 quoted 2 Corinthians 4:13 , and possibly Psalms 119:66 ), does faith ipso nomine (or ‘believe’) assume the personal value which is of its essence in the NT. The difference in expression between the OT and NT in this respect discloses a deep-lying difference of religious experience. The national redemption of Israel (from Egypt) lay entirely on the plane of history, and was therefore to be ‘remembered’; whereas the death and rising of our Lord, while equally historical, belong to the spiritual and eternal, and are to be ‘believed.’ Under the Old Covenant the people formed the religious unit; the relations of the individual Israelite to Jehovah were mediated through the sacred institutions, and the Law demanded outward obedience rather than inner faith hearing the voice of Jehovah, ‘keeping his statutes,’ ‘walking in his way’; so (in the language of Galatians 3:23 ) the age of faith was not yet. Besides this, the Israelite revelation was consciously defective and preparatory, ‘the law made nothing perfect’; when St. Paul would express to his fellow-countrymen in a word what was most precious to himself and them, he speaks not of ‘the faith’ but ‘the hope of Israel’ ( Acts 28:20 etc.), and the writer of Hebrews 11:1-40 defines the faith of his OT heroes as ‘the assurance of things hoped for ’; accordingly, Hebrew terms giving to faith the aspect of expectation trusting, waiting, looking for Jehovah are much commoner than those containing the word ‘believe.’ Again, the fact that oppression and suffering entered so largely into the life of OT believers has coloured their confessions in psalm and prophecy; instead of believing in Jehovah, they speak of cleaving to Him, taking refuge under His wings, making Him a shield, a tower , etc. In all this the liveliness of Eastern sentiment and imagination comes into play; and while faith seldom figures under the bare abstract term, it is to be recognized in manifold concrete action and in dress of varied hue. Under the Old Covenant, as under the New, faith ‘wrought by love’ ( Deuteronomy 6:5 , Psalms 116:1 etc., Leviticus 19:18 etc.), while it inspired hope.
2. In NT . The NT use of pistis, pisteuÃ´ , is based on that of common Greek, where persuasion is the radical idea of the word. From this sprang two principal notions, meeting in the NT conception: ( a ) the ethical notion of confidence, trust in a person, his word, promise, etc., and then mutual trust , or the expression thereof in troth or pledge a usage with only a casual religious application in non-Biblical Greek; and ( b ) the intellectual notion of conviction, belief (in distinction from knowledge), covering all the shades of meaning from practical assurance down to conjecture, but always connoting sincerity, a belief held in good faith. The use of ‘faith’ in Matthew 23:23 belongs to OT phraseology (see Deuteronomy 32:20 , quoted above); also in Romans 3:3 , Galatians 5:22 , pistis is understood to mean good faith, fidelity (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘faithfulness’), as often in classical Greek. In sense ( b ) pistis came into the language of theology, the gods being referred ( e.g. by Plutarch as a religious philosopher) to the province of faith, since they are beyond the reach of sense-perception and logical demonstration.
(1) In this way faith came to signify the religious faculty in the broadest sense, a generalization foreign to the OT. Philo JudÃ¦us, the philosopher of Judaism, thus employs the term; quoting Genesis 15:6 , he takes Abraham for the embodiment of faith so understood, viewing it as the crown of human character, ‘the queen of the virtues’; for faith is, with Philo, a steady intuition of Divine things, transcending sense and logic; it is, in fact, the highest knowledge, the consummation of reason. This large Hellenistic meaning is conspicuous in Hebrews 11:1 b, Hebrews 11:6; Hebrews 11:27 etc., and appears in St. Paul ( 2 Corinthians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 5:7 ‘by faith not by appearance’). There is nothing distinctively Christian about faith understood in the bare significance of ‘seeing the invisible’ ‘the demons believe , and shudder’; the belief that contains no more is the ‘dead faith,’ which condemns instead of justifying ( James 2:14-26 ). As St. James and St. Paul both saw from different standpoints, Abraham, beyond the ‘belief that God is,’ recognized what God is and yielded Him a loyal trust, which carried the whole man with it and determined character and action; his faith included sense ( a ) of pisteuÃ´ (which lies in the Heb. vb. ‘believe’) along with ( b ). In this combination lies the rich and powerful import of NT ‘believing’: it is a spiritual apprehension joined with personal affiance; the recognition of truth in, and the plighting of troth with, the Unseen; in this twofold sense, ‘with the heart (the entire inner self) man believeth unto righteousness’ ( Romans 10:10 ). Those penetrated by the spirit of the OT could not use the word pistis in relation to God without attaching to it, besides the rational idea of supersensible apprehension , the warmer consciousness of moral trust and fealty native to it already in human relationships.
(2) Contact with Jesus Christ gave to the word a greatly increased use and heightened potence. ‘Believing’ meant to Christ’s disciples more than hitherto, since they had Him to believe in; and ‘believers,’ ‘they that had believed,’ became a standing name for the followers of Christ (Acts 2:44 , Romans 10:4 , 1 Corinthians 14:22 , Mark 16:17 ). A special endowment of this power given to some in the Church seems to be intended by the ‘faith’ of 1 Corinthians 12:9 (cf. Matthew 17:19 f., Luke 17:5 f.). Faith was our Lord’s chief and incessant demand from men; He preaches, He works ‘powers,’ to elicit and direct it the ‘miracle-faith’ attracted by ‘signs and wonders’ being a stepping-stone to faith in the Person and doctrine of God’s Messenger. The bodily cures and spiritual blessings Jesus distributes are conditioned upon this one thing ‘Only believel’ ‘All things are possible to him that believeth.’ There was a faith in Jesus, real so far as it went but not sufficient for true discipleship, since it attached itself to His power and failed to recognize His character and spiritual aims (see John 2:23 ff; John 4:48; John 6:14 ff; John 7:31; John 8:30 ff; John 11:45; John 12:11 ff; John 14:11 ), which Jesus rejected and affronted; akin to this, in a more active sense, is the faith that ‘calls’ Him ‘Lord’ and ‘removes mountains’ in His name, but does not in love do the Father’s will, which He must disown ( Matthew 7:21 ff., 1 Corinthians 13:2 ). Following the Baptist, Jesus sets out with the summons, ‘Repent, and believe the good news’ that ‘the kingdom of God is at hand’ ( Mark 1:15 ); like Moses, He expects Israel to recognize His mission as from God, showing ‘signs’ to prove this (see John 2:11; John 2:23; John 3:2 etc.; cf. Acts 2:22 , Hebrews 4:2 ). As His teaching advanced, it appeared that He required an unparalleled faith in Himself along with His message, that the Kingdom of God He speaks of centres in His Person, that in fact He is ‘the word’ of God He brings, He is the light and life whose coming He announces, ‘the bread from heaven’ that He has to give to a famished world ( John 6:33 ff; John 8:12; John 11:25; John 14:6 etc.). For those ‘who received him,’ who ‘believed on his name’ in this complete sense, faith acquired a scope undreamed of before; it signified the unique attachment which gathered round the Person of Jesus a human trust, in its purity and intensity such as no other man had ever elicited, which grew up into and identified itself with its possessor’s belief in God, transforming the latter in doing so, and which drew the whole being of the believer into the will and life of his Master. When Thomas hails Jesus as ‘My Lord and my God!’ he ‘ has believed ’; this process is complete in the mind of the slowest disciple; the two faiths are now welded inseparably; the Son is known through the Father, and the Father through the Son, and Thomas gives full affiance to both in one. As Jesus was exalted, God in the same degree became nearer to these men, and their faith in God became richer in contents and firmer in grasp. So sure and direct was the communion with the Father opened by Jesus to His brethren, that the word ‘faith,’ as commonly used, failed to express it: ‘Henceforth ye know (the Father), and have seen him,’ said Jesus ( John 14:7 ); and St. John, using the vb. ‘believe’ more than any one, employs the noun ‘faith’ but once in Gospel and Epp. ( 1 John 5:4 ) ‘ knowing God, the Father,’ etc., is, for him, the Christian distinction. Their Lord’s departure, and the shock and trial of His death, were needful to perfect His disciples’ faith ( John 16:7 ), removing its earthly supports and breaking its links with all materialistic Messianism. As Jesus ‘goes to the Father,’ they realize that He and the Father ‘are one’; their faith rests no longer, in any degree, on ‘a Christ after the flesh’; they are ready to receive, and to work in, the power of the Spirit whom He sends to them ‘from the Father.’ Jesus is henceforth identified with the spiritual and eternal order; to the faith which thus acknowledges Him He gives the benediction, ‘Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’ ( John 20:29; cf. 1 Peter 1:8 ). To define this specific faith a new grammatical construction appears in NT Greek: one does not simply believe Jesus, or believe on Him, one believes into or unto Him, or His name (which contains the import of His person and offices) so in Matthew 18:6 , and continually in Jn. ( John 2:11; John 2:23; John 3:18; John 3:36; John 4:39; John 6:29; John 6:35; John 7:38 f., John 9:35; John 11:25 f., John 12:36 f., John 14:1; John 14:12 , John 17:20 etc.; also in Paul) which signifies so believing in Him as to ‘come to Him’ realizing what He is. By a variety of prepositional constructions, the Greek tongue, imperfectly followed in such refinements by our own, strives to represent the variety of attitude and bearing in which faith stands towards its Object. That the mission of Jesus Christ was an appeal for faith, with His own Person as its chief ground and matter, is strikingly stated in John 20:31 : ‘These things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life in his name.’ Christian faith is the decisive action of the whole inner man understanding, feeling, will; it is the trustful and self-surrendering acknowledgment of God in Christ.
(3) Further, Jesus called on the world to ‘believe the good news’ of His coming for redemption. This task, marked out by OT prophecy, and laid on Him at His birth (Luke 1:68-79; Luke 2:38 ) and baptism ( John 1:29 ), from an early period of His ministry Jesus connected with His death (see John 2:19-22; John 3:14 f.: and later, Matthew 16:16-28; Matthew 20:28 , Luke 9:31; Luke 12:50 , John 12:23-25 ). The words of Matthew 26:28 , which must be vindicated as original, make it clear that Jesus regarded His death as the culmination of His mission; at the Last Supper He is ready to offer His ‘blood’ to seal ‘the new covenant’ under which ‘forgiveness of sins’ will be universally guaranteed (cf. Jeremiah 31:33 f.). Having concentrated on Himself the faith of men, giving to faith thereby a new heart and energy, He finally fastens that faith upon His death; He marks this event for the future as the object of the specifically saving faith. By this path, the risen Lord explained, He had ‘entered into his glory’ and ‘received from the Father the promise of the Spirit,’ in the strength of which His servants are commissioned to ‘preach to all the nations repentance and remission of sins’ ( Luke 24:46-48; cf. Acts 2:22-38 ). Taught by Him, the Apostles understood and proclaimed their Master’s death as the hinge of the relations between God and man that centre in Christ; believing in Him meant, above all, believing in that , and finding in the cross the means of deliverance from sin and the revelation of God’s saving purpose toward the race ( Acts 3:18 f., Acts 20:28 , 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 , 2Co 5:14-21 , 1 Peter 3:18 , Revelation 1:4-6 , etc.). Faith in the resurrection of Jesus was logically antecedent to faith in His sacrificial death; for His rising from the dead set His dying in its true light ( Acts 4:10-12 ), revealing the shameful crucifixion of Israel’s Messiah as a glorious expiation for the guilt of mankind ( Hebrews 2:9 , Romans 4:25 , 1 Peter 1:21 ). To ‘confess with one’s mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in one’s heart that God raised him from the dead,’ was therefore to fulfil the essential conditions of the Christian salvation ( Romans 10:9 ), since the Lord’s resurrection, including His ascension which completes it, gives assurance of the peace with God won by His accepted sacrifice ( Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 9:11-14; Hebrews 10:19; Hebrews 10:22 ); it vindicates His Divine Sonship and verifies His claims on human homage ( Romans 1:4 , Acts 2:36 , 1 Peter 1:21 ); it guarantees ‘the redemption of the body,’ and the attainment, both for the individual and for the Church, of the glory of the Messianic Kingdom, the consummated salvation that is in Christ Jesus ( 1 Corinthians 15:12-28 , Romans 8:17-23 , Ephesians 1:17-23 , Acts 17:31 , Revelation 1:5; Revelation 1:17 f., etc.). In two words, the Christian faith is to ‘believe that Jesus died and rose again’ ( 1 Thessalonians 4:14 ) that in dying He atoned for human sin, and in rising He abolished death. St. Paul was the chief exponent and defender of this ‘word of the cross,’ which is at the same time ‘the word of faith’ ( Romans 10:8 ); its various aspects and issues appear under the terms Justification, Atonement, Propitiation, Grace, Law (in NT), etc. But St. Peter in his 1st Ep., St. John in his 1st Ep. and Rev., and the writer of Hebrews, each in his own fashion, combine with St. Paul to focus the redeeming work of Jesus in the cross. According to the whole tenor of the NT, the forgiving grace of God there meets mankind in its sin; and faith is the hand reached out to accept God’s gifts of mercy proffered from the cross of Christ. The faculty of faith, which we understood in its fundamental meaning as the spiritual sense, the consciousness of God, is in no wise narrowed or diverted when it fixes itself on ‘Jesus Christ, and him crucified’; for, as St. Paul insists, ‘God commendeth his own love to us in that Christ died for us,’ ‘ God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.’ ‘The glory of God’ shines into men’s hearts, His true character becomes for the first time apparent, and calls forth a full and satisfied faith, when beheld ‘in the face of Christ’ ( Rom 5:8 , 2 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ).
G. G. Findlay.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Faith'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/f/faith.html. 1909.