The previous article in this series is here.
Did Paul’s and Luke’s missionary companionship influence how they used the word believe? Did they share the same understanding of how to respond to Christ crucified? These are very interesting questions for two reasons.
First, as the evidence below suggests, Luke was not only comfortable using “believe” to describe a response to the gospel that could include baptism, it appears to have required it. If this is true, then when Luke recounted that someone believed, that conversion story encompassed more than just believing; it signified a faith response involving baptism.
Second, early Christian tradition asserts Luke wrote the gospel Paul proclaimed. If this is true, then Luke’s usage of believe might very well reflect Paul’s viewpoint. What can we discover regarding whether their perspectives aligned?
As for Luke, we find him using “many believed” (Acts 9:42) as a summary and equivalent expression to “they turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35). Accordingly Luke was comfortable in summarizing conversion narratives that included baptism with “they believed” (Acts 10:47-48; 15:7). Furthermore, baptism appears to be required in order to come to faith since it is not after hearing the word of the Lord that the jailer is described as “having come to believe,” but only after being baptized (Acts 16:32-34). Thus for Luke, those who believe are those who have been baptized.
When Luke desired to indicate conversion without specifying all of the details, one of his favorite expressions was they believed. Nothing bound Luke to limit himself to only using believe to designate conversion. What is significant is sometimes he did use believe to indicate someone turned to the Lord. When Luke did this he did not outline every aspect of their faith response.
So how did Luke use the noun form of believe, that is faith? In Acts faith depicts not only the message, namely “the faith” (Acts 13:8), but he could also use it to indicate trust in Christ resulting in forgiveness (Acts 24:24; 15:9). This trust in Christ is equivalent to saying, “they became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7), which requires specific obedient responses including baptism (Acts 2:40-41; 8:12; 14:15).
Although presented here in a summary fashion, Luke’s perspective seems clear. Both believing as well as obeying the gospel can be general terms for conversion. Furthermore, Luke used both terms indicating baptism had occurred.
Therefore the questions remain. Did Paul and Luke share this same viewpoint regarding believing? When Paul called for people to believe or to have faith in Christ, was Paul limiting their response to just believing or was he in agreement with Luke that trusting involves baptism?
Like Luke, Paul used believe and faith to depict the proper response to the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17). People need to rely upon Christ in order to receive God’s gift of salvation. However, with statements like Romans 1:16-17, did Paul assert that people only need to believe or was he summarizing various aspects of trusting in Christ under an umbrella called believing?
The first clue might come from a particular phrase Paul used within this same letter, namely Romans. What was Paul’s missionary objective among the Gentiles and what should the gospel produce within someone’s life? To quote him, “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:25-26). Thus when Paul speaks of faith, he understood that to respond with faith toward the gospel requires at least some form of obedience. What did he reveal about his understanding of how people obediently trust in Christ for salvation?
For Paul, in order for the message to erupt as faith within someone that person must believe in one’s heart and acknowledge Jesus with one’s lips (Rom. 10:6-10). Romans 1:16-17 says nothing about confession, yet since “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” it is clearly a necessary component of believing. Clearly sometimes Paul does seem to summarize the faith response with believe. Furthermore, Paul did not limit the obedient faith at conversion to merely these particulars.
According to him, there is also another aspect of the heart’s obedience to the message that sets a person free from sin (Rom. 6:17-18). With this affirmation Paul refers to his earlier discussion on baptism (Rom. 6:3-4). Not only did Paul describe baptism as a faith response, he also tied it to salvation since in baptism people are released from sin, transformed by God and claimed by God as his people (Col. 2:12-13; Gal. 3:26-27).
Like Luke, Paul on some occasions did summarize responding to the gospel with believe or faith. However, when we drill down into what believing and faith entail, we discover Paul understood relying upon Christ involves the faith elements of belief, confession and baptism. We must allow them to communicate what they believed, rather than force their use of language into what contemporary thinking would have liked them to write.
As missionary collaborators Paul and Luke worked side by side to spread the gospel. Did they present the same message and use terms like believe and faith in the same way? It would seem so. After all, Paul himself emphasized a unity driving the one church; there is one faith as well as only one baptism (Eph. 4:5). I think Luke would agree.