the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
1. In the Acts of the Apostles.-In the Acts faith is spoken of as (1) inspired by Christ, (2) directed to Christ, (3) corresponding to Christian teaching.
(1) After St. Peter had healed the lame man, he explained that the miracle had been wrought by the power of God by faith in the name of the ‘Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead’; ‘yea, the faith which is through him (ἡ διʼ αὐτοῦ) hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all’ (Acts 3:16). The health-bringing faith both in the apostles and the cripple had been inspired by Jesus, the Holy One.
(2) More frequently the faith is directed to Jesus Christ. Thus the general statement is made: ‘Many believed on (ἐπὶ) the Lord’ (Acts 9:42). St. Paul enjoins the Philippian jailer: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 16:31). Similarly Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, ‘believed in the Lord with all his house’ (Acts 18:8; ἐπίστευσεν τῴ κυρίῳ = ‘believed the Lord’). In all these cases the faith is directed to the Lord Jesus Christ.
(3) In several passages ‘the faith’ is equivalent to the Christian faith or Christian religion. In describing the multiplying of the disciples in Jerusalem it is said: ‘A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith’ (Acts 6:7). In Cyprus Elymas opposed the apostles, ‘seeking to turn aside the proconsul from the faith’ (Acts 13:8). St. Paul returned to the towns in Asia, ‘confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith’ (Acts 14:22). In each of these cases ‘the faith’ has already become the phrase to express all that is implied by believing in Christ.
We can see the transition from (2) to (3) in the expression used by St. Peter when speaking of the work of God among the Gentiles. He says that God mode do distinction, ‘cleansing their hearts by faith’ or ‘by the faith’ (Acts 15:9).
This leads us to note that in Acts faith is made the medium for healing, cleansing, and salvation. The largest result of faith is announced by St. Paul when he promises to the jailer salvation for himself and his household as the blessing given to faith in Jesus Christ. The gift of the Holy Spirit is associated with faith in Christ, as in the case of Cornelius and his friends who welcomed the preaching of the gospel by St. Peter, so that ‘while Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word’ (Acts 10:44). More generally the gift of the Holy Spirit follows baptism and the laying on of hands, as in the case of the disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:2) and the Samaritans whom Philip had led to believe in Jesus Christ (Acts 8:17).
It is noteworthy that in describing both Stephen and Barnabas it is said of each that he was ‘full of faith and of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 6:5; Acts 11:24), and probably it is implied that each had received not only the permanent gift of the Spirit (δωρεάν, Acts 2:38) but also the graces (χαρίσματα, 1 Corinthians 12:9) imparted by Him through a full and obedient faith.
2. In the Epistle of St. James.-This Epistle must have been written either in the very earliest apostolic times or in a period that is almost post-apostolic. The whole Epistle is practical and undogmatic, and lays the chief emphasis on ethical observance. The writer appreciates the value of faith when he refers to those who are ‘rich in faith’ (James 2:5) and to the ‘prayer of faith’ (James 5:15); but in the section of the Epistle which deals with faith and works, it is not too much to say that he looks upon faith with a measure of suspicion. In this argument (James 2:14-26) the writer evidently defines ‘faith’ in his own mind as intellectual assent to Divine truth, and with his undogmatic prepossessions he becomes almost antidogmatic in tendency. The Apostle describes this faith not as false or feigned, but as having such reality only as the faith of demons in the oneness of God, To him ‘faith’ is far from being an enthusiastic acceptance of a Divine Redeemer.
If the Epistle was written in very early times, the argument must move more on Judaic than on Christian grounds, and a certain corroboration of this is found in the fact that the illustrations are taken from OT examples like Abraham and Rahab, and that the typical example chosen is belief in the unity of God, which was the war-cry of the Jew as it became in later days that of the Muhammadan. If the later date is chosen, then time must be left for a general acceptance of Christian truth so that ‘faith’ had become assent to Christian dogma. In either case the argument of the Epistle cannot be regarded as a direct polemic against the teaching of St. Paul. The two writers move in different spheres of thought, so that, while words and phrases are alike, their definitions are as the poles asunder. An instance of this is found in the words with which St. James closes the section on ‘faith.’ The Apostle has already declared: ‘Faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself’ (James 2:17), so now he sums up: ‘As the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead’ (James 2:26). Here we find that so far from faith being the inspiration of works, as St. Paul might suggest, St. James teaches that works are the inspiration of faith. Faith may be a mere dead body unless works prove to be an inner spirit to make it alive. This declaration agrees with the writer’s whole attitude, for throughout this letter he insists that the practical carrying out of ‘the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ’ is found in obedience to ‘the royal law’; ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ This practice of the will of Christ makes faith to be alive.
3. In the Epistles of St. Paul.-In the writings of St. Paul ‘faith’ and ‘grace’ are the human and the Divine sides of the great experience that revolutionized his own life and the lives of many to whom the gospel was brought. Occasionally faith is spoken of as being directed to God, but commonly it is directed to Jesus Christ. Thus in Galatians 2:16 St. Paul writes: ‘Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, save (but only, ἐὰν μή) through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jeans that we might be justified by faith in Christ.’ Here the reiteration is singular, but the insistence on ‘faith in Christ’ is characteristically Pauline. To St. Paul the only faith that is of value is the faith that rests on Jesus Christ our Lord, who was made in the likeness of men, died for our sins, and rose again from the dead. The Death of Christ occupies so large a place in his thought that he is determined to know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), while he insists so strongly on the Resurrection as to declare: ‘If Christ hath not been raised; your faith is vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:17).
This revolutionizing faith is awakened by the preaching of the gospel: ‘Belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ’ (Romans 10:17), i.e. by the word concerning Christ, or, as it is called earlier (Romans 10:8), ‘the word of faith,’ i.e. the word that deals with justifying faith. This faith, according to St. Paul, brings salvation. Thus in Ephesians 1:13 ‘the word of the truth’ is the medium by which faith comes, and through faith comes salvation. So in Ephesians 2:8 it is said: ‘By grace have ye been saved through faith’ (διὰτῆς πίστεως, not διὰ τὴν πίστιν, i.e. through faith as a means, not on account of faith as a ground of salvation). Hearing and faith are associated in a similar way in the Epistle to the Galatians, as the means by which the gift of the Spirit came. ‘Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?’ (Galatians 3:2), and the meaning varies little whether we conceive of faith as the accompaniment of hearing or as its product. It is possible to infer from Ephesians 1:13 f. that the gift of the Spirit was received after, not contemporaneously with, the act of faith. ‘Having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.’ The sealing with the Spirit is posterior to the act of faith and may be associated with the rite of baptism, which came to be known as a sealing ordinance.
St. Paul dwells frequently upon faith as a definite act in his own life and in the lives of Christian converts. Two instances only need be given. In Galatians 2:16 he says: ‘We believed on Christ Jesus,’ where the verb ἐπιστεύσαμεν denotes one definite net in the past when they turned in faith to (εἰς) Christ Jesus. Even more marked is the sentence in Romans 13:11 : ‘Now is salvation nearer to us (ἤ ὄτε ἐπιστεύσαμεν) than when we believed,’ i.e. than when we by a definite act of faith became Christians, In St. Paul’s experience and teaching this act of faith leads to a life of faith, so that he can write of himself: ‘That life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). Faith is not a solitary act but a continuous attitude of the inner life towards Christ Jesus. But this does not imply that either at the beginning or during its course this faith is perfect; it may be halting even when real, and when living it grows ever stronger ‘by faith unto faith’ (Romans 1:17). Faith is weak in the experience of many, sometimes in opposition to the enticing power of evil when flesh lusts against spirit, sometimes in opposition to law as a ground of salvation, and sometimes in failing to appreciate what Christian truth implies. This last form of weakness is discussed by St. Paul towards the close of the Epistle to the Romans 14, where those weak in faith do not understand the extent of their freedom in Christ, and find themselves bound in conscience by irritating non-Christian customs. St. Paul commends a faith that is stronger and freer, but he declares that none mast act in defiance of their faith. They must be clear in mind and conscience before they break even these customs. ‘Whatsoever is not of faith is sin’ (Romans 14:23). Even when Christians are perfect (τέλειοι, Philippians 3:15), possessors of a mature faith as well as full knowledge, they have not reached the goal, but they must still press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).
For St. Paul faith was an experience that touched the inmost part of his nature, but it had perforce to find outward expression. Faith and profession ore necessarily united. The believer in Christ must be a witness for Christ. The statement of Romans 10:10 puts succinctly what St. Paul constantly implies: ‘With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the month confession is made unto salvation.’ These are not so much independent acts as two sides of the same act. Internally faith in Christ brings a change of heart, externally it implies confession of the Lord. This confession finds its formal expression in baptism, and the Apostle expected that in this way as well as in more homely ways this public confession would be made. In St. Paul’s view the believer in Christ must be a professing Christian.
If faith must be associated with such outward testimony it must be even more intimately associated with many Christian graces, and especially with love or charity. St. Paul in his eulogy of love (1 Corinthians 13) declares that among the great abiding virtues love is the chief. ‘lf I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing’ (1 Corinthians 13:2). This exalted praise of love is the more remarkable because St. Paul is the champion of faith in the great controversy of which we get his own statement in the Epistles to Galatians and Romans (Galatians 2, 3, Romans 1-5). St. Paul’s experience on the way to Damascus when he was convinced of the Messiahship and Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth became the dominant factor in all his life, and led to his abandonment of allegiance to law and to the strenuous vindication of the place of faith in the religious life. Before his conversion St. Paul had sought justification with God by a religious obedience to the Law, bat Faith in Jesus Christ changed his whole attitude and revolutionized his whole thought. Faith in Christ was not conceived by him primarily as bringing a now power in attaining the end that he had previously kept in view, for now he believed that justification had been attained at once through faith in Christ by the grace of God, Justification was the beginning of true life, not a blessing to be attained at the end (Galatians 2:16).
The faith which receives this blessing is faith in Christ Jesus. This faith in conceived by St. Paul not as a mere intellectual assent or as a recognition of the unseen world, but as an enthusiastic trust in Christ as Saviour, and as a complete devotion to Him as Lord. The whole inner nature, including mind, heart, and will, is committed to Him in trust and devotion. In receiving Jesus as Christ, St. Paul gave himself to Jesus as Lord. This saving faith became the medium of all Divine blessing to St. Paul, and, drawing upon his own experience, he taught that it would be and must be the medium of blessing to all. Hence he gloried in the gospel, ‘for therein is revealed a righteousness of God by faith unto faith’ (Romans 1:17). The gospel could thus become a universal message for mankind, for it dealt with all men alike as sinners, and offered to all who believed in Christ the righteousness of God, ‘being justified freely by has grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3:24).
After this illuminating experience of the grace of God came to St. Paul he turned back to the OT and found in its pages that in the religious experience there narrated the blessings of God had come also through faith. Thus ‘to Abraham his faith was reckoned for righteousness’ (Romans 4:9, Galatians 3:6). So David pronounced blessing upon the man unto whom God reckoneth righteousness apart from works (Romans 4:6). He found that God’s method had always been the same. His grace had reached its end when a human heart had responded in faith. This truth is utterly opposed to St. Paul’s former belief that righteousness came by the Law, and both in Rom. and Gal. he labours to prove that, whatever the work of the Law was, it was not to gain a right standing with God. It had a mission even concerning faith, but it was the mission of an attendant slave to bring those who were in ward unto Christ; but when that mission was fulfilled, they were no longer under law, but were all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:24-26). Thus the Christian life is regarded as a free, loving, spiritual service, of which faith in Christ is the prime origin and the constant inspiration.
In the Pastoral Epistles that are usually associated with the name of St. Paul we find ‘the faith’ frequently used as equivalent to the Christian faith or teaching. Thus in 1 Tim. we find: ‘Some made shipwreck concerning the faith’ (1 Timothy 1:19). Deacons must hold the ‘mystery of the faith in a pure conscience’ (1 Timothy 3:9). ‘In later times some shall all away from the faith’ (1 Timothy 4:1). ‘If any provideth not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith’ (1 Timothy 5:8). It is inferred by some that the use of ‘the faith’ in this sense implies a late date for this Epistle, possibly considerably after St. Paul’s death; but it is significant that in Gal., which is among the very earliest of the Pauline Epistles, there is found the expression: ‘Before the faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed’ (Galatians 3:23). Here the Apostle describes the early period not as the time before faith came, for faith was found already in the OT, but as the time before the faith came, i.e. the faith of Christ. Thus in this early-Epistle we have the starting-point for the later use.
4. In the Epistle to the Hebrews.-In this Epistle faith has not the content that has been found in the Epistles of St. Paul. It is true that when the writer is speaking of ‘the first principles of Christ’ he mentions first, in a manner suggestive of St. Paul’s phrases, the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God’ (ἐπὶ θεόν, Hebrews 6:1). But even here ‘dead works’ is not used in the Pauline sense as works done apart from Christ or as works of themselves, and ‘faith’ is not the enthusiastic trust in Christ which St. Paul enshrines as the central feature of experience and dogma. In Heb., faith may he defined in general terms as the human response to the word of God. When man refuses to respond, he is guilty of unbelief and of hardness of heart; when he responds to God speaking to him, then he believes. God sent His word through agents, such as angels (Hebrews 2:2) and prophets (Hebrews 1:1), but especially in the last times He has spoken through His Son, and has borne witness to this message by ‘signs and wonders, by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Ghost’ (Hebrews 2:3-4). Faith is the obedient response to this word of God, and has been found in all those who have become ‘the cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1). The secret of the assurance, devotion, and endurance of the OT saints is found in their unceasing confidence in the God who revealed Himself to them (Hebrews 1:1). The greatest example of this faith was Jesus Himself, ‘the author and perfecter of faith’ (Hebrews 12:2), who led the way in the career of faith and embodied in His own life its full realization. This believing response to the word of God produces within the mind certain activities, the chief of which the writer describes when he gives faith its well-known definition (Hebrews 11:1): ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for (or it gives substance to things hoped for), the proving of things not seen (or the conviction of unseen realities.)’ Faith is the conviction of the reality of things not made known through the senses, and, so far as religion is concerned, it is produced by the word of God.
It ought to be observed that throughout this Epistle there is also implied a faith in the work of God by Christ, the great High Priest and Mediator of a new covenant. Possibly this work ought to be regarded as a part of the word of God, for the writer conceives of God’s word coming in the OT through such works as the arrangements of the tabernacle (Hebrews 9:8), as well as by spoken message, and the work of Christ may he conceived as in its entirety the message of God to men. On the other hand, it is possible that the writer, having described the complete priestly work done by Christ, regards faith as the response to the call then made by God to enter into His immediate fellowship. Those who respond will draw near to God ‘in frill assurance of faith’ (ἐν πληροφορίᾳ πίστεως, Hebrews 10:22).
5. In the Epistles of St. Peter.-There is little that is distinctive in the doctrinal teaching of these Epistles, and analogies may be found with both St. Paul and St. James. The writer of 1 Pet. makes Christ the object of faith, ‘on whom (εἰς ὄν), though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable’ (1 Peter 1:8). He also makes Christ the means of faith in God: Christ ‘was manifested at the end of the times for your sake, who through him (διʼ αὐτοῦ) are believers in God’ (εἰς θεὸν, 1 Peter 1:20-21). Similarly those who are suffering greatly are called upon to ‘commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator’ (1 Peter 4:19), where in a unique phrase God as Creator is presented as the object of trust. Throughout 1 Pet. salvation is regarded as future, certainly near at hand, but still as an inheritance to which Christians are to look forward. Hence the se who are begotten unto this living hope must look upon the trials they are undergoing as tests of their faith (1 Peter 1:6), and must recall that, as Christ suffered in the flesh, they must arm themselves with the same mind (1 Peter 4:1). But the real defence is the power of God, by which they are guarded through faith (1 Peter 1:5). Faith brings under the power of God those who are tried, so that at last they will receive the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls (1 Peter 1:9).
6. In the Epistles of St. John.-‘Faith’ is not the dominant conception in these Epistles, but ‘light,’ ‘knowledge,’ ‘love.’ Faith and love are presented as twin commands: ‘This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another’ (1 John 3:23). The thought is somewhat varied when the writer says that a believer in Christ receives new life from God, and one sign of that new life is that he loves God who begat him, and also every other one who is begotten in the same way (1 John 5:1). True faith includes genuine love. The knowledge of God, of Christ, and of ourselves leads to faith. ‘We know and have believed the love which God hath in us’ (1 John 4:16); but faith also develops into a deeper and surer knowledge: ‘These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God’ (1 John 5:13).
Through faith there comes also victory over the world and all the powers of the world. ‘This is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith’ (1 John 5:4). Thus he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God passes by the way of forgiveness, knowledge, and love into an assured confidence and a great victory over the world and the things that are in the world.
7. In the Apocalypse.-It is unnecessary to examine the Apocalypse in detail, for it does not deal with either the nature or the defence of faith. In some respects it rises to a higher level as poetic and prophetic expression is given in it to the energy of the deep religious faith that abounds in the heart of the writer. In the Apocalypse we have described for us in words and pictures the unity and power of God, the dominion of Christ over the Church and the world, and the triumphant victory of the Kingdom of God over all the powers of evil. With all its problems and mysteries, this book has proved in times of despair the means of begetting and sustaining faith in Jesus Christ as ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’ (Revelation 1:5).
8. Conclusion.-In whatever ways the apostles differ in their method of regarding faith, they agree in the underlying thought that in and by it there is oneness with Jesus Christ. This union is dwelt upon by St. Paul especially in passages that deal with the ‘unio mystica’ (Ephesians 1:23, 1 Corinthians 12:12, etc.), but it appears also in the argument of 1 Jn. (1 John 2:24). To make this oneness real, there is required less mere intellectual discernment than willingness of heart to commit soul and life to God in Christ. This faith is the answer of the heart to the grace of God, and is associated always with repentance and is accompanied by love and other Christian graces. Thus the writer of 2 Pet. is at one with all the apostles in saying to Christians that when they become partakers of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) they are bound to add to the faith-that is fundamental-virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, love of the brethren, love. Faith, that makes a believer a sharer in Christ’s salvation, makes him also a sharer in Christ’s mind and character.
Literature.-H. Bushnell, The New Life, 1860, p. 44; J. C. Hare, The Victory of Faith3, 1874; J. T. O’Brien. The Nature and the Effects of Faith4, 1877; N. Smyth, The Reality of Faith, 1888, also The Religions Feeling-a Study for Faith. n.d.; J. Kaftan, Glaube und Dogma3, 1889: C. Gore, in Lux Mundi12, 1891. p. 1; J. W. Diggle, Religions Doubt. 1895, p. 28; J. Haussleiter, ‘Was versteht Paulus unter christlichem Glauben?’ in Greifswalder Studien, 1895, p. 159ff.; G. B. Stevens, Doctrine and Life, 1895, p. 191; A. Schlatter, Der Glaube im NT2, 1896; J. Martineau, Faith and Self-Surrender, 1897: W. Herrmann, Faith and Morals, 1904; G. Ferries, The Growth of Christian Faith, 1905; E. Griffith-Jones, Faith and Verification, 1907; W. R. Inge, Faith, 1909; H. C. G. Moule, Faith, 1909; P. Charles, La Foi, 1910; P. Gardner, The Religions Experience of St. Paul, 1911, p. 206: H. Martensen-Larsen, Zweifel und Glaube, 1911; D. L. Ihmels, Fides implicita und der evangelische Heilsglaube, 1912; A. Nairne, The Epistle of Priesthood, 1913, p. 336ff.; W. M. Ramsay, The Teaching of Paul, 1913, pp. 56, 163, 176, 182.
D. Macrae Tod.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Faith'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​f/faith.html. 1906-1918.