Praise and Worship Bible Study: Topics: Faith: Bible Encyclopedia
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
An exhaustive Biblical encyclopedia that details every significant word in the Bible. Contains articles by nearly 200 scholars about every aspect of the culture, language, people, and literature of the Bible.
2. Meaning: a Divergency
3. Faith in the Sense of Creed
4. A Leading Passage Explained
In the Old Testament (the King James Version) the word occurs only twice: Deuteronomy 32:20 (’emun); Habakkuk 2:4 (’emunah). In the latter the Revised Version (British and American) places in the margin the alternative rendering, “faithfulness.” In the New Testament it is of very frequent occurrence, always representing pistis, with one exception in the King James Version (not the Revised Version (British and American)), Hebrews 10:23, where it represents elpis, “hope.”
The history of the English word is rather interesting than important; use and contexts, alike for it and its Hebrew and Greek parallels, are the surest guides to meaning. But we may note that it occurs in the form “feyth,” in Havelok the Dane (13th century); that it is akin to fides and this again to the Sanskrit root bhidh, “to unite,” “to bind.” It is worth while to recall this primeval suggestion of the spiritual work of faith, as that which, on man’s side, unites him to God for salvation.
2. Meaning: a Divergency:
Studying the word “faith” in the light of use and contexts, we find a bifurcation of significance in the Bible. We may word distinguish the two senses as the passive and the active; on the one side, “fidelity,” “trustworthiness”; and “faith,” “trust,” on the other. In Galatians 5:22, for example, context makes it clear that “fidelity” is in view, as a quality congruous with the associated graces. (the Revised Version (British and American) accordingly renders pistis there by “faithfulness.”) Again, Romans 3:3 the King James Version, “the faith of God,” by the nature of the case, means His fidelity to promise. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, “faith,” as rendering pistis, means “reliance,” “trust.” To illustrate would be to quote many scores of passages. It may be enough here to call attention to the recorded use of the by our Lord. Of about twenty passages in the Gospels where pistis occurs as coming from His lips, only one (Matthew 23:23) presents it in the apparent sense of “fidelity.” All the others conspicuously demand the sense of “reliance,” “trust.” The same is true of the apostolic writings. In them, with rarest exceptions, the words “reliance,” “trust,” precisely fit the context as alternatives to “faith.” 3. Faith in the Sense of Creed:
Another line of meaning is traceable in a very few passages, where pistis, “faith,” appears in the sense of “creed,” the truth, or body of truth, which is trusted, or which justifies trust. The most important of such places is the paragraph James 2:14-26, where an apparent contradiction to some great Pauline dicta perplexes many readers. The riddle is solved by observing that the writer uses “faith” in the sense of creed, orthodox “belief.” This is clear from James 2:19, where the “faith.” in question is illustrated: “Thou believest that God is one.” This is the credal confession of the orthodox Jew (the shema`; see Deuteronomy 6:4), taken as a passport to salvation. Briefly, James presses the futility of creed without life, Paul the necessity of reliance in order to receive “life and peace.”
4. A Leading Passage Explained:
It is important to notice that Hebrews 11:1 is no exception to the rule that “faith” normally means “reliance,” “trust.” There “Faith is the substance (or possibly, in the light of recent inquiries into the type of Greek used by New Testament writers, “the guaranty”) of things hoped for, the evidence (or “convincing proof”) of things not seen.” This is sometimes interpreted as if faith, in the writer’s view, were, so to speak, a faculty of second sight, a mysterious intuition into the spiritual world. But the chapter amply shows that the faith illustrated, e.g. by Abraham, Moses, Rahab, was simply reliance upon a God known to be trustworthy. Such reliance enabled the believer to treat the future as present and the invisible as seen. In short, the phrase here, “faith is the evidence,” etc., is parallel in form to our familiar saying, “Knowledge is power.”
A few detached remarks may be added: (a) The history of the use of the Greek pistis is instructive. In the Septuagint it normally, if not always, bears the “passive” sense “fidelity,” “good faith,” while in classical Greek it not rarely bears the active sense, “trust.” In the koine, the type of Greek universally common at the Christian era, it seems to have adopted the active meaning as the ruling one only just in time, so to speak, to provide it for the utterance of Him whose supreme message was “reliance,” and who passed that message on to His apostles. Through their lips and pens “faith,” in that sense, became the supreme watchword of Christianity.
See JUSTIFICATION; UNION WITH CHRIST.
In conclusion, without trespassing on the ground of other articles, we call the reader’s attention, for his Scriptural studies, to the central place of faith in Christianity, and its significance. As being, in its true idea, a reliance as simple as possible upon the word, power, love, of Another, it is precisely that which, on man’s side, adjusts him to the living and merciful presence and action of a trusted God. In its nature, not by any mere arbitrary arrangement, it is his one possible receptive attitude, that in which he brings nothing, so that he may receive all. Thus “faith” is our side of union with Christ. And thus it is our means of possessing all His benefits, pardon, justification, purification, life, peace, glory.
As a comment on our exposition of the ruling meaning of “faith” in Scripture, we may note that this precisely corresponds to its meaning in common life, where, for once that the word means anything else, it means “reliance” a hundred times. Such correspondence between religious terms (in Scripture) and the meaning of the same words in common life, will be found to be invariable.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915 edition) is a public domain biblical encyclopedia. This encyclopedia was published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
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