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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. Faithfulness of God in the Old Testament
2. Faithfulness of God in the New Testament
Faithfulness is a quality or attribute applied in the Scripture to both God and man. This article is limited to the consideration of the Scripture teaching concerning the meaning of faithfulness in its application to God.
Faithfulness is one of the characteristics of God's ethical nature. It denotes the firmness or constancy of God in His relations with men, especially with His people. It is, accordingly, one aspect of God's truth and of His unchangeableness. God is true not only because He is really God in contrast to all that is not God, and because He realizes the idea of Godhead, but also because He is constant or faithful in keeping His promises, and therefore is worthy of trust (see TRUTH ). God, likewise, is unchangeable in His ethical nature. This unchangeableness the Scripture often connects with God's goodness and mercy, and also with His constancy in reference to His covenant promises, and this is what the Old Testament means by the Faithfulness of God (see
1. Faithfulfulness of God in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament this attribute is ascribed to God in passages where the Hebrew words denoting faithfulness do not occur. It is implied in the covenant name Yahweh as unfolded in Exodus 3:13-15 , which not only expresses God's self-existence and unchangeableness, but, as the context indicates, puts God's immutability in special relation to His gracious promises, thus denoting God's unchangeable faithfulness which is emphasized in the Old Testament to awaken trust in God (Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 36:5 (Hebrew 6); Isaiah 11:5; Hosea 12:6 , Hosea 12:9 ). (For fuller remarks on the name Yahweh in Exodus 3:13-15 , see article
This can be seen also from the Hebrew words which are used to express this quality of God's nature and activity. These words are
A similar use is made of the nouns
It is in this connection, moreover, that God's faithfulness is closely related to His righteousness in the Old Testament. In the second half of the prophecy of Isaiah and in many of the psalms, righteousness is ascribed to God because He comes to help and save His people. Thus righteousness as a quality parallel with grace, mercy and faithfulness is ascribed to God (Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 45:13 , Isaiah 45:19 , Isaiah 45:21; Isaiah 63:1 ). It appears in these places to widen out from its exclusively judicial or forensic association and to become a quality of God as Saviour of His people. Accordingly this attribute of God is appealed to in the Psalms as the basis of hope for salvation and deliverance (Psalm 31:1 (Hebrew 2); Psalm 35:24; Psalm 71:2; Psalm 143:11 ). Hence, this attribute is associated with God's mercy and grace (Psalm 36:5 (Hebrew 6); Psalm 36:9 (Hebrew 10); Psalm 89:14 (Hebrew 15)); also with His faithfulness ( Zechariah 8:8; Psalm 36:6 (Hebrew 7)); Psalm 40:10 (Hebrew 11); Psalm 88:11 , Psalm 88:12 (Hebrew 12, 13); Psalm 89:14 (Hebrew 15); Psalm 96:13; Psalm 119:137 , Psalm 119:142; Psalm 143:1 ). Accordingly the Old Testament conception of the righteousness of God has been practically identified with His covenant faithfulness, by such writers as Kautzsch, Riehm and Smend, Ritschl's definition of it being very much the same. Moreover, Ritschl, following Diestel, denied that the idea of distributive and retributive justice is ascribed to God in the Old Testament. In regard to this latter point, it should be remarked in passing that this denial that the judicial or forensic idea of righteousness is ascribed to God in the Old Testament breaks down, not only in view of the fact that the Old Testament does ascribe this attribute to God in many ways, but also in view of the fact that in a number of passages the idea of retribution is specifically referred to the righteousness of God (see RIGHTEOUSNESS; compare against Diestel and Ritschl, Dalman, Die richterliche Gerextigkeit im Alten Testament ).
That which concerns us, however, in regard to this close relation between righteousness and faithfulness is to observe that this should not be pressed to the extent of the identification of righteousness with covenant faithfulness in these passages in the Psalms and the second half of Isa. The idea seems to be that Israel has sinned and has no claim upon Yahweh, finding her only hope of deliverance in His mercy and faithfulness. But this very fact that Yahweh is merciful and faithful becomes, as it were, Israel's claim, or rather the ground of Israel's hope of deliverance from her enemies. Hence, in the recognition of this claim of His people, God is said to be righteous in manifesting His mercy and faithfulness, so that His righteousness, no less than His mercy and faithfulness, becomes the ground of His people's hope. Righteousness is thus closely related in these cases to faithfulness, but it is not identified with it, nor has it in all cases lost entirely its forensic tone. This seems to be, in general, the meaning of righteousness in the Psalms and the second half of Isaiah, with which may also be compared Micah 6:9; Zechariah 8:8 .
The emphasis which this attribute of God has in the Old Testament is determined by the fact that throughout the whole of the Old Testament the covenant relation of Yahweh to His people is founded solely in God's grace, and not on any merit of theirs. If this covenant relation had been based on any claim of Israel, faithfulness on God's part might have been taken for granted. But since Yahweh's covenant relation with Israel and His promises of salvation spring solely from, and depend wholly upon, the grace of God, that which gave firm assurance that the past experience of God's grace would continue in the future was this immutable faithfulness of Yahweh. By it the experience of the fathers was given a religious value for Israel from generation to generation. And even as the faithfulness of God bridged over the past and the present, so also it constituted the connecting link between the present and the future, becoming thus the firm basis of Israel's hope; compare Ps 89 which sets forth the faithfulness of God in its greatness, its firmness as the basis of the covenant and the ground it affords of hope for future help from Yahweh, and for hope that His covenant shall endure forever. When God's people departed from Him all the more emphasis was put upon His faithfulness, so that the only hope of His wayward people lay not only in His grace and mercy but also in His faithfulness, which stands in marked contrast with the faithlessness and inconstancy of His people. This is probably the meaning of the difficult verse Hosea 11:12 ( Hebrews 12:1 ).
2. Faithfulness of God in the New Testament
In the New Testament teaching concerning the faithfulness of God the same idea of faithfulness to His gracious promises is emphasized and held up as the object of a confident trust in God. This idea is usually expressed by the adjective
An attempt has been made by Wendt (SK , 1883, 511 f; Teaching of Jesus , English translation, I, 259 f) to interpret the words
In the Epistles of Paul the word
This faithfulness of God to His covenant promises is frequently emphasized by Paul, the words he employs being the noun
This faithfulness of God in the sense of fidelity to His promises is set forth as the object of sure trust and hope by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was the basis of Sarah's faith that she would bear a child when she was past age (Hebrews 11:11 ); and it is because God is faithful to His promise in Christ that we can draw nigh to Him with full assurance of faith, holding fast without wavering the profession of hope (Hebrews 10:23 ).
John also ascribes this attribute to God. Since one of the most precious of God's promises through Christ is the pardon of sin through the "blood of Jesus Christ," John says that God's faithfulness, as well as His righteousness, is manifested in the forgiveness of sin (1 John 1:9 ).
The faithfulness of God is viewed from a slightly different point by Peter when he tells his readers that those who suffer as Christians and in accordance with God's will should "commit their soul's in well-doing unto a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19 ). The quality of faithfulness, which in the Scripture is more frequently ascribed to God in His relation to man as gracious Saviour, and as the ground of hope in His gracious promises, is here applied by Peter to God in His relation to man as his Creator, and is made the ground of comfort under persecution and suffering. The omission of the article before the words "faithful Creator" makes emphatic that this is a characteristic of God as Creator, and the position of the words in the sentence throws great emphasis on this attribute of God as the basis of comfort under suffering. It is as if Peter would say to suffering Christians, "You suffer not by chance but in accordance with God's will; He, the almighty Creator, made you, and since your suffering is in accordance with His will, you ought to trust yourselves to Him who as your Creator is faithful." It is, of course, Christians who are to derive this comfort, but the faithfulness of God is extended here to cover all His relations to His people, and to pledge all His attributes in their behalf.
This attribute is also ascribed to Christ in the New Testament. Where Jesus is called a faithful high priest, the idea expressed is His fidelity to His obligations to God and to His saving work (Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 3:2 , Hebrews 3:6 ). But when in the Book of Revelation Jesus Christ is called the "faithful witness" or absolutely the "Faithful and True," it is clear that the quality of faithfulness, in the most absolute sense in which it is characteristic of God in contrast with human changeableness, is ascribed to Christ (Revelation 1:5; Revelation 3:14; Revelation 19:11 ). This is especially clear in the last-named passage. The heavens themselves open to disclose the glorified Christ, and He appears not only as a victorious warrior whose name is faithful and true, but also as the one in whom these attributes have their highest realization, and of whom they are so characteristic as to become the name of the exalted Lord. This clearly implies the Deity of Jesus.
In summing up the Scripture teaching concerning God's faithfulness, three things are noteworthy. In the first place, this characteristic of God is usually connected with His gracious promises of salvation, and is one of those attributes which make God the firm and secure object of religious trust. As is the case with all the Scripture teaching concerning God, it is the religious value of His faithfulness which is made prominent. In the second place, the so-called moral attributes, of which this is one, are essential in order to constitute God the object of religion, along with the so-called incommunicable attributes such as Omnipotence, Omnipresence and Unchangeableness. Take away either class of attributes from God, and He ceases to be God, the object of religious veneration and trust. And in the third place, while these moral attributes, to which faithfulness belongs, have been called "communicable," to distinguish them from the "incommunicable" attributes which distinguish God from all that is finite, it should never be forgotten that, according to the Scripture, God is faithful in such an absolute sense as to contrast Him with men who are faithful only in a relative sense, and who appear as changeable and faithless in comparison with the faithfulness of God. See RIGHTEOUSNESS; TRUTH;
Besides the Commentaries on the appropriate passages, see Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament , English translation, 95, 112 f, 505; Dillmann, Handbuch der alttest. Theol ., 268-76, 269-70; Schlatter, Der Glaube im New Testament , 21-22, 259-60. In the works on New Testament theology this subject is treated under the sections on the truthfulness of God.
On the relation of God's truth and faithfulness, see Wendt, Der Gebrauch der Wörter , ἀλήθεια , ἀληθής
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Faithful; Faithfulness'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/f/faithful-faithfulness.html. 1915.
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