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Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Faith in the New Testament--Different Meanings

The word "faith" is a word that has different meanings in different places where it is found in the New Testament.  It can be disconcerting when one first becomes aware of this but at the same time, we benefit from knowing it.

In preparation for this article, I looked up the word "faith" in a little paperback Merriam-Webster Dictionary I have curious as to what I would find.  I found 4 meanings listed as follows:  (1) allegiance to duty or a person which you could call loyalty (2) belief or trust in God (3) complete trust and (4) a system of religious beliefs.

I then went to another book I have entitled An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W. E. Vine.  This is a standard work, a word definition book quite well known by Bible students.  This book allows you to take the English word found in your King James Bible, look it up, and it will give you the Greek word or words behind the English, and give you the meaning of those Greek words as used in the scriptures in the first century. 

When I looked up the word "faith" in Vine's dictionary I found the Greek word behind it to be "pistis."  Vine says the word means, depending on the passage in which it is being used, (a) trust (b) trustworthiness or faithfulness (c) what is believed, the contents of belief (d) the grounds for faith, assurance, and (d) a pledge of fidelity.  He gives scriptural references for each of these usages.

We can see then that the word “faith” has different meanings in different contexts in which it is found.

Generally speaking, as it relates to the New Testament, we think faith means trust in God or the Lord Jesus and it most certainly does.  The word is used with this meaning more than any other meaning given the word in the New Testament scriptures.  I think the classic example of this kind of faith (trust in God) found in the New Testament is found in Heb. 11:17-19 referring back to Abraham.  The text reads as follows:

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called,' accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense." (Heb. 11:17-19 NKJV)

That is trust (or faith) in God to the utmost degree.  It is a faith we all need to develop but note one thing about this faith--note what it is based on.  It is based on the "word of God."  What had God promised Abraham concerning Isaac?  Abraham had been given God's word and was thoroughly convinced God could, would not, lie (Titus 1:2).  "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10:17 KJV)

Scriptural faith is never based on what a man thinks, a man's opinions or ideas, but upon God's word.  If there is no word from God then whatever a man believes is not faith but opinion.  Abraham had word from God--"In Isaac your seed shall be called."  Noah had the same faith regarding the coming flood and the need to build an ark.  It was not his opinion that a flood was coming.  He had God's word on it.

Another use of the word faith that is an uncommon usage but a scriptural one is faith as a spiritual gift.  In 1 Cor. 12 the subject is spiritual gifts (see verse 1).  In verse 8 Paul begins listing various spiritual gifts that had been given the Corinthians and in verse 9 includes faith.  He says, "To another faith by the same Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:9 NKJV)  I do not understand the nature of this faith but it was of such strength, evidently, that it could only be acquired by a direct spiritual impartation. 

This might explain what Jesus was talking about in Matt. 21:21.  "So Jesus answered and said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' it will be done.'" (NKJV)

Another different use of the word faith is found in Rom. 14:23, "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin." (NKJV)  Here the word refers to having a good conscience with regards to what you allow or do.  If you violate your conscience in doing a thing it is sin for one must act based on faith with the belief that what he is doing is in accord with God's will.  One cannot doubt and do a thing without it being a sin.

Taken in context the verse is found in a discussion about the eating of meats.  Under the Law of Moses, certain meats were unclean, and eating them was sin.  Under Christ, this was no longer so but some doubted and thus for them to eat, thinking it was possibly a sin to do so, and eating anyway, to them it became sin.  Their conscience was not clean.

Faith is at times used as a reference not to trust in God but as a reference for the whole Christian system, the entirety of New Testament teaching.  The best example and one all can readily see for such a usage, is found in Jude 3, "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." (NKJV)  The phrase "the faith" is a reference to the entire gospel system of salvation. 

What a lot of people do not know is that the phrase "the faith" is found in your Bible more times than you know.  Why do I say that?  Because those who translated our Bibles left it out (the “the” before the word “faith”) thinking it unnecessary to translate both words.  Let me give you some examples.

Gal. 3:14, "That the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through ('the' is in the Greek text here but omitted by most translations--DS) faith." (NKJV)

Gal. 3:25, "But after ('the' is in the Greek text here but omitted by most translations--DS) faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor." (NKJV)

Gal. 3:26, "For you are all sons of God through ('the' is in the Greek text here but omitted by most translations--DS) faith in Christ Jesus." (NKJV)

There is a difference between "the faith" and "faith" thus such omissions are a serious error in translations.  If you doubt me just type in "interlinear" in your search engine and check me out.  I used the interlinear at Biblos but any of them should do just fine.  Young's Literal Translation accurately translates these verses leaving the word "the" where it belongs. 

Other places where "the faith" is used to mean the gospel system is 1 Tim. 4:1, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith," (NKJV) "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith," (2 Cor. 13:5 NKJV) "… and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith." (Acts 6:7 NKJV)  In fact, the phrase "the faith" is used 39 times (without the omissions already mentioned) in the New King James Version.  I do not claim every single instance refers to the gospel but many of them do.

Another phrase often used in the Bible is the phrase "by faith."  One finds this, especially, in Hebrews chapter 11.  By faith, this man or this woman did this or that.  We read of that in verse after verse.  The phrase generally means they "acted" based on faith, because of faith, or out of faith.  One would be hard-pressed in life to find any meaningful act ever done by a rational person without a motivation of one kind or another behind it.  Faith is the motivating factor for the man or woman of God.  People act on God's word because they believe it.  When one does not believe one does not obey.  This disbelief is one reason so many who claim the name Christian are never baptized.  They do not believe what the Bible says about it.  Others who do believe are baptized.

Actually, the Hebrew writer explains this earlier in the book.  In Hebrews chapter 3 the writer is talking about those who came out of Egypt with Moses headed to the promised land.  As you know that generation did not enter therein for they refused to go up and fight in direct violation of God's command.  The Hebrew writer is talking about those people when he says, "And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?  So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief."  (Heb. 3:18-19 NKJV)  He ties their disobedience in directly with their unbelief.  They did not trust God's word and thus refused to obey.  So it is today.  Jesus is "the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him." (Heb. 5:9 NKJV)  Only those who believe will obey.

There is no such thing as saving faith without diligent seeking of God which means in part obeying him in all he commands us to do.  "But without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him." (Heb. 11:6 NKJV) 

A good goal for all of us would be to so live that when we die it could be said of us that we lived by faith while living and then died in faith in passing.  We all ought to try and live such a life.  "The just shall live by faith." (Heb. 10:38 NKJV)

Finally, let us all try and read the Bible with more discernment.  I include myself in that.  We will all get more out of it if we put more time into it instead of just rapidly passing over the text.  It is great to read the Bible but far better to read it and study it.

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