Belief, trust, and loyalty to a person or thing. Christians find their security and hope in God as revealed in Jesus Christ, and say "amen" to that unique relationship to God in the Holy Spirit through love and obedience as expressed in lives of discipleship and service.
The Old Testament. The Hebrew language has six terms that develop the fundamental ideas of belief, trust, and loyalty. The root bth [j;f'B] expresses an individual's feeling of safety, and so means to feel secure. At times this confidence is self-centered ( Eze 33:13 ) or related to warriors ( Hosea 10:13 ) and riches ( Jer 49:4 ). But security that is a result of a trusting relationship with God is most important. It can be combined with the fear of the Lord and obedience to his Word so that the one who walks in the dark is encouraged to "trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God" ( Isa 50:10 ). It can also be equated with acknowledging God in all our ways in contrast to relying on our own understanding ( Prov 3:5-6 ).
The term hsh [j;v}j] describes the state of one in need of help who is dependent on another for protection. In Jotham's parable the thornbush challenges the trees who invite it to be their king: "If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade" ( Judges 9:15 ). While being pursued by an enemy, David asks the Lord to "save and deliver" him based on a similar assertion: "I take refuge in you" ( Psalm 7:1 ). The idea of taking refuge can also be contrasted with trusting in people or princes ( Psalm 118:8-9 ). It is not surprising then that "those who seek refuge" in God are the same as the godly who experience the love and salvation of God ( Psalm 17:7 ). To acknowledge dependence on God for protection when in need of help is a unique mark of the godly.
The terms qwh [h"w'q], yhl [l;j"y], and hkh [h'k'j] express persistence, a simple hope, or a waiting for. Isaiah promises: "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength" (40:31). David prays: "May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you" ( Psalm 33:22 ); he confesses: "We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield" ( 33:20 ).These descriptions that express a hope in God that involves patience and persistence are expressions of faith. During the siege of Samaria, Ahab, who blamed his troubles on the Lord, showed a lack of faith when he asked, "Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?" ( 2 Kings 6:33 ).
The term mn [m'a] with its stress on firmness and stability emphasizes the varied activities of God and our responses to him. Deuteronomy 7:9 majestically calls us to an understanding of who God is: "Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands." Because the person of God and his word are one, Solomon prays: "And now, O God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true" ( 1 Kings 8:26 ); and the prophet threatens, "I proclaim what is certain" when speaking of God's sure judgment ( Hosea 5:9 ). The proper response of individuals to this firm and stable activity of God is modeled by Abraham, who is chosen by God. Because his heart is faithful, God enters into a covenant with him that involves a homeland ( Neh 9:7-8 ).
The recognition and acknowledgment of the relationship into which God enters with people is a declaratory saying of "amen" to God and a special religious attitude of the people of God. The commands of God demand a proper response. Individuals are to acknowledge his demands, regard him as trustworthy, and be obedient to him. Faith is a spiritual attitude involving activity. The children of Israel stood condemned because they rebelled at God's command to take possession of the land he had given them. Fundamental to this rebellion is the claim: "You did not trust him or obey him" ( Deut 9:23 ). On the other hand, Abram stood approved when he acknowledged the promise of God, and trusted God's power to perform what he had promised: "Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness" ( Gen 15:6 ). The Lord indicated to Abram his plan for history, and Abram believed it to be something real and was filled with a firmness and security in the Lord. His subsequent exercise of patience and obedient actions are clear indications of the meaning of faith.
The setting and origin of the term "faith" as used in the Old Testament are intimately linked to the covenant between God and his people. The term sums up all the ways by which people express their relationship to God. Isaiah dares to equate existence and faith when he claims that the people of God have their particular manner of being, and are established through their faith ( Isa 7:9 ). This understanding is in sharp contrast with the picture of Ahaz, who rejects God's invitation to confirm the truth of his word, and then ironically is given the promise of Immanuel ( Isa 7:14 ). In the fulfillment of this promise lies the challenge of the New Testament to redefine faith.
The New Testament. The transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament understanding of faith involves an appreciation of the continuity between them and that which is unique in the New Testament. The concepts of covenant, people of God, revelation, and the activity of God in history continue from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The unique understanding in the New Testament is defined by a new covenant, and the people of God being identified by their response to God's Son, Jesus. In the language of the New Testament, the common Greek of Jesus' day, we are told how God enters history as the Christ in the person of his Son Jesus, and remains active in the world through his Holy Spirit and the church.
The Septuagint, as a transitional text between the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, fixes the theological vocabulary that the church uses to define what God has done, is doing, and will do. The meaning of faith in the New Testament is then both a reflection of its continuity with the Old Testament and an expression of its uniqueness in a different historical and cultural setting. In the representative selections from the Old Testament that we have examined, only one term, mn [m'a], is consistently translated in the Septuagint by a single concept, pisteuein/pistos [pisteuvw/pistov"]. It is this concept that the Synoptic Gospels, Acts, the Epistles, and the Johannine writings use to examine and illustrate the meaning of faith in the New Testament.
The Synoptic Gospels. As for the ancient Israelites so for the new people of God, faith means primarily confident trust based on God's promise as understood through his Word ( Luke 1:20 ; 24:25 ). In Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, and the gospel, the true message of God, people are called to say "yes" to God and to recognize the messenger and the message as true ( Mark 1:15 ).
For Jesus, God is Father and King. This claim involves a unique sense of presence and communion with God, as well as the call to his hearers to respond to his own claim of Sonship ( Mark 12:1-12 ), and his interpretation of the kingdom of God as being near ( Matt 12:22-28 ). Mark opens his Gospel with the simple assertion that this is "the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God" ( 1:1 ). It begins with the ministry of John the Baptist, which climaxes with the baptism of Jesus and the heavenly announcement of Jesus' Sonship ( 1:11 ; cf. Matt 3:17 ; Luke 3:22 ). This announcement is repeated during Jesus' transfiguration and followed by the command, "Listen to him" ( Mark 9:7 ; cf. Matt 17:5 ; Luke 9:35 ). In the beginning of his ministry Jesus proclaims the gospel in terms of the nearness of the kingdom and the need to believe ( Mark 1:14-15 ). Specifically, the parables of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount call for a response. The parable of the sower calls the proper response to Jesus' word "believing" ( Luke 8:12-13 ). The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), as the ethics of those who are to live under the rule of God as Father, concludes with Jesus' admonition to be wise and to put these words into practice ( 7:24-27 ; cf. 5:19-20 ).
The results of faith are seen in the radical changes that people experience when they place their trust in Jesus. The Gospels make the faith response explicit in particular miracles. The centurion's servant ( Matt 8:13 ), a paralytic ( Matt 9:2 ), a woman who had been sick for twelve years ( Mark 5:34 ), a twelve-year-old child who died ( Mark 5:36 ), and a blind beggar ( Luke 18:42 ) are all examples from the Synoptic Gospels of those who are told by Jesus: "Your faith has healed you."
In the Gospel of Mark the fearful and amazed responses of individuals to the person and work of Jesus are indicators of belief or unbelief. The amazement of the people in the Capernaum synagogue at Jesus' teaching and healing of a man possessed by an evil spirit leads to their recognition of his authority ( Mark 1:21-27 ). When this same amazement is expressed by the people in the synagogue in Jesus' hometown, it leads to offense and Jesus' comment on their lack of faith ( Mark 6:1-6 ). The side-by-side stories of the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage and the raising of Jairus's daughter from the dead have as a common theme the conquering of fear and the exercise of faith that results in new life ( Mark 5:32-34 Mark 5:36 ). In two incidents on the Sea of Galilee the disciples, when rescued by Jesus, respond with fear and amazement that are identified as a lack of faith ( Mark 4:40-41 ) or a hardness of heart ( Mark 6:50-52 ). These conditions prevent them from responding to Jesus when he reveals to them what it means to be the Messiah ( Mark 8:31-32 ; 9:31-32 ; 10:32-34 ), or from hearing how believers can be true followers of this Messiah ( 8:34-38 ; 9:33-37 ; 10:41-45 ). Because Mark is intent on clarifying for the church the central truth that Jesus as the Son of Man is a suffering-servant Messiah whose example they must be willing to follow, a blind Bartimaeus, who is healed as he exercises faith, becomes the model disciple as he follows Jesus to Jerusalem and the way of the cross with his new sight.
Jesus asserts, in a discussion with skeptical disciples, that power is available to all who have faith ( Mark 11:23 ), and that prayer is one means for expressing this faith ( Mark 11:24 ). This paradoxical power of faith is seen not only in its "mountain-mover" quality, which is a kind of participation in God's creative activity, but also in its comparison with a minute grain of mustard seed ( Luke 17:6 ). To place one's trust in Jesus is to open the door for radical change in the meaning of life itself.
The Book of Acts. In its record of the statements and activities of the early church, Acts emphasizes that Jesus Christ is the focus of faith. If faith in the Synoptic Gospels means confident trust based on God's promise as understood through his word and the person of his Son, then in Acts, which serves as a bridge between the Gospels and the Epistles, it is that and more. A single statement about faith in God is clarified as "belief in the Lord" ( 5:14 ; 9:42 ; 11:21 ; 14:23 ; 18:8 ) or "belief in Jesus" (3:16; 19:4), and made comprehensive when linked to the idea of salvation through the hearing of the word ( 4:4 ; 13:12 ). Gentiles ( 11:21 ; Acts 13:12 Acts 13:48 ; 15:7 ; 17:34 ; 21:25 ), Jews ( 6:7 ; 15:5 ; 16:1 ; 18:8 ; 21:20 ) and people of both genders ( 5:14 ) will be saved when they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The church, in responding to the example and words of Jesus radicalized the Old Testament meaning of faith. By means of the ministries of Peter and Paul, Luke paints a vivid picture of the internal and external struggles of the Christian community as both the synagogue and the Jerusalem church resist breaking from the strict keeping of the law and the limitations of racial descent to acknowledge the claim that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ alone ( 4:12 ; 15:14 ). All those who accept the gospel message and Christ's lordship are identified as "believing ones" ( 4:32 ; 11:21 ; 18:27 ; 19:18 ; 22:19 ), a synonym for "Christians."
In anticipation of the more formal analysis of the Epistles, faith in Acts is linked to baptism ( 8:12-13 ; 18:8 ; 19:2 ), confession ( 19:18 ), forgiveness ( 10:43 ), grace ( 15:11 ; 18:27 ), healing ( 3:16 ; 14:9 ), the Holy Spirit ( 19:2 ), justification ( 13:39 ), purification ( 15:9 ), and sanctification ( 26:18 ). Faith is also portrayed as something one can be full of ( 11:24 ), turned from ( 13:8 ), remain true to ( 14:22 ), and be strengthened in ( 16:5 ). Basic to all of these ideas is the understanding that the act of believing is also a commitment to a community of worship ( 5:12 ), the meeting of the needs of others ( 2:44-45 ), and the sharing of this faith with all as Jesus told them ( 1:7-8 ).
The Epistles. The fundamental Jewish position that the law is God's love-gift to his people and that by fulfilling its requirements they could attain the righteousness of God is countered in the Epistles by the claim that salvation is by faith in the crucified and risen Christ. Saul, a Jew whose persecution of the Christians was based on this premise ( Acts 22:3-5 ), after meeting the risen Christ becomes a Paul who with opened eyes receives the Holy Spirit and preaches that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God ( Acts 9 ; Gal 1:23 ). His letters to the churches validate the claim that faith in Christ is the only means of attaining the righteousness of God ( Rom 1:16-17 ; Php 3:7-9 ).
According to Paul in his letter to the church in Rome, the moral degradation of all people becomes the occasion for God's saving activity (1:18-3:20), with a resulting righteousness being received by faith (3:21-31). This salvation is variously described by Paul using the analogies of justification ( Rom 3:24 ; 4:25 ), redemption ( Rom 3:24 ; 1 Cor 1:30 ), reconciliation ( Rom 5:10 ; 2 Cor 5:18-20 ), and freedom ( Gal 4:1-7 ; 5:1 ). James' argument for the necessary outworking of this salvation in good works ( 2:14-24 ) is countered by Paul's insistence on the working of the grace of God in the act of faith for salvation ( Rom 3:24-31 ).
The effect of faith in the life of the believer can be generalized under the picture of a new creation ( 2 Cor 5:17 ), but is also particularized in terms of sonship ( Rom 8:14-17 ; Gal 4:4-7 ), unity ( 1 Cor 1:10 ), love ( 1 Cor. 13 ; Galatians 5:6 Galatians 5:22 ), hope ( Rom 6:8 ; 1 Peter 1:21 ), and steadfastness ( Heb 11 ). Paul's letters to the churches, with their recitation of problems with unity, love, and hope, seem to deny these claims. If faith means being a new creation, why is there so little unity and love in the Corinthian church and so little hope in the Thessalonian church? Paul's answer is twofold. First, he acknowledges the tension between the power of God at work in the people of faith and their continuing mortality ( 2 Cor 4:7-12 ). Second, he reminds the Corinthians that the presence of the Spirit empowers God's people in their mortality now and also serves as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come, so that they live now by faith and not by sight ( 2 Cor 5:5-7 ; 2 Thess 2:13-17 ). The writer to the Hebrews uses this same definition, plus the examples of Old Testament persons of faith and Jesus, as a basis for the exhortation to live the life of faith and Jesus, as a basis for the exhortation to live the life of faith in the face of its hindrances ( Heb 10:35-12:12 ).
The later letters in the New Testament to Timothy and Titus, in addition to their continuing use of these dynamic definitions of faith, distinguish true faith from false faith by making the content of faith confessional ( 2 Tim 4:3 ; Titus 1:9 ). Sound doctrine becomes the basis for right teaching ( Titus 2:1 ) and right living ( 2 Tim 3:15 ). Paul's words to Timothy when faced with the prospect of death" I have kept the faith" ( 2 Tim 4:7 )can be a witness to both the dynamic quality of his life in Christ and the correctness of his understanding.
The Johannine Writings. The change to a specific vocabulary for speaking about faith is most evident in the Gospel and Epistles of John. The Greek verb "to believe" (pisteuein [pisteuvw]) is used in all instances except 1 John 5:4, which uses the noun to define "the victory that has overcome the world, " although even it is followed by the verbal explanation that "he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" overcomes the world ( 1 John 5:5 ). The Fourth Gospel's ninety-eight uses of the verb for believing contrast with only thirty uses in all of the Synoptic Gospels. All four Gospels refer to believing facts (hoti clause: Matt 9:28 ; Mark 11:23-24 ; Luke 1:45 ; John 6:69 ), to believing people or Scripture (dative case: Matt 21:25 ; Mark 11:31 ; Luke 1:20 ; John 2:22 ), and believing without a stated object (absolute use: Matt 8:13 ; Mark 5:36 ; Luke 8:12-13 ; John 1:50 ). The Gospel of John alone stresses what it means to believe into (eis [daneisthv"]) Jesus Christ.
From the beginning of the Gospel, where we are told that John the Baptist's witness to Jesus as the light is "so that through him all men might believe" ( 1:7 ), until the Gospel's concluding statement of purpose" That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" ( 20:31 ), the gospel is presented as a call to faith. Jesus Christ, as the object of faith, is first portrayed as the Word become flesh who comes into the world to make it possible for all to become children of God by believing/receiving him ( 1:10-14 ), and finally shown to be the risen Christ who in belief is acknowledged as Lord and God ( 20:28-29 ). In between these two brackets belief or unbelief is determined by people's responses to Jesus' signs in which he reveals his glory ( 2:11 ), his power to heal ( 4:53 ; 5:9 ), his willingness to meet the needs of the hungry ( 6:12-14 ), the helpless ( John 6:21 John 6:61-70 ), and the blind ( 9:38 ), and to raise the dead ( 11:25-26 ). To his disciples he explains how they too can "overcome the world" ( 16:33 ). Their confession of faith at the end of the discourse in the upper room affirms their willingness to let their relationship with Jesus define the essence of their life and faith ( 16:29-30 ; cf. 14:20-21 ; 15:1-17 ; 16:12-15 ).
The intensity of the relational in John's description of believing in Christ may be compared to Paul's use of the term "in Christ" to define what it means to be a Christian ( Romans 6:11 Romans 6:23 ). The result of this relationship is a movement from darkness to light ( John 12:46 ), from death to life ( John 11:25-26 ), and a love that reciprocates the love of the Father for the Son and for the world ( John 15:9-13 ; 3:16 ) as the believer is involved in active, self-giving service ( John 13:1 John 13:12-17 ). The power for this is to be found after Jesus' resurrection in the continuing relationship between the Son and the believer through the Holy Spirit ( John 14:15-27 ; 16:5-15 ; 7:37-39 ).
The Book of Revelation, with its stress on that which is to come, sees faith almost entirely from the perspective of the end and the exalted role of the martyr as a faithful witness ( Revelation 2:10 Revelation 2:13 Revelation 2:19 ; 14:12 ) who is compared with Jesus Christ who is also designated as faithful ( 1:5 ; 3:14 ; 19:11 ). All whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life respond to the promise of this Faithful One, "I am coming soon, " with the prayer, "Marana tha."
Herbert L. Swartz
Bibliography. H. Berkhof, Christian Faith; R. M. Brown, Is Faith Obsolete?; G. Ebeling, The Nature of Faith; R. M. Hals, Grace and Faith in the Old Testament; D. B. Harbuch, The Dynamics of Belief; H.-J. Hermisson and E. Lahse, Faith; J. G. Machen, What Is Faith?
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Faith'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".