by Barry Newton
Dictionaries typically reflect a particular culture’s usage of words. In contradistinction to modern nuances and meanings, what if a dictionary were to roll back time to reveal Biblical usages? What light might such a manual of words cast on this essential biblical term?
Faith: Trust. Confidence expressed in reliance.
Nature of faith
Each situation determines the appropriate response of faith. Where unconditional promises have been offered, possessing faith merely requires believing (Gen. 15:5,6). In other contexts, such as where a command is given, to have faith necessitates expressing belief through the suitable behavior (Heb. 11:7,8; 2 Chron. 20:16,21; Rom. 1:5; Jam. 2:26).
Depending upon whether the object of trust is reliable, faith may either be misplaced or appropriately expressed. Because of God’s sovereignty and covenantal promises, God is capable of being faithful and worthy of trust (Deut. 7:9; Is. 12:2; 26:4; Tit. 1:2), while other sources are ultimately bankrupt (Ps. 146:3; Is. 42:17; Jer. 7:8). Trusting in God epitomizes how people ought to live (Ps. 62:8; Is. 30:15; Rom. 1:17).
The Hebrew root ‘mn denoting firmness or certainty came to express in the hiphil form the confident trust a person places upon someone or something (Gen. 15:6; Ex. 14:31; Is. 7:9). Another root, bth, whose fundamental idea relates to feeling secure (Jud. 18:7) developed into signifying faith because the object of trust was regarded as reliable (Is. 50:10; Prov. 3:5).
Faith (pistis) signifies the expressed trust and confidence resulting from what is believed thus producing expectation (Heb. 11:1; Rom. 3:25,26). The proclamation of Christ is intended to create within the hearer faith in Jesus thereby establishing both a relationship with and a commitment to Christ (Rom. 10:17; Eph. 3:17; Col. 1:23; Acts 20:21). Salvation through Christ is made available by trusting in Jesus (Eph. 2:8). People begin their reliance upon Jesus through immersion (Col. 2:12; Gal. 3:26-27). Persevering in this relationship with God with its beliefs and practices entails living by faith (Rom. 1:17; 1 Tim. 3:9; 2 Tim. 4:7). Failure to maintain this fellowship involves leaving the faith (Jude 3; 1 Tim. 4:1; 5:8).
Paul was not preoccupied in explaining how to trust in Jesus since this was known among his Christian recipients. Paul’s emphasis upon faith was to defend the principle of faith against works as the means by which individuals will be declared righteous (Rom. 3:27,28; Phil. 3:9). The essence of this contrast does not pit belief against action, but trust in God and in Christ against self-reliance (Rom. 4:4f.; Gal. 3:3). Accordingly, Paul could use any faith response example to establish the principle (Rom. 4:3) even though the example’s details regarding how someone trusted might differ from how to rely upon Christ.
Whereas Paul juxtaposed competing systems, James delineated the nature of saving faith. In atypical usage, James used faith to designate belief alone. His denial that belief alone is sufficient for salvation is wholly in line with Paul, who affirmed that faith involves obedience (Jam. 2:17-26; Rom. 1:5; 1 Th. 1:3).