Word Study on Faith and Faithfulness

Faith, faithful and believing come from the same Greek word group. Let’s learn about them together in simple English.

I let these theologians quickly define the term in the Old Testament (no, I’m not in the Reformed churches, but I can still learn from them on such basics). The terms faith and faithfulness are aligned with trustworthiness and truth.

Let’s appeal to Reformed theologian, Louis Berkhof, who writes:

The Scripture uses several words to express the veracity of God. In the Old Testament ‘emeth, ‘amunah, and ‘amen, and in the New Testament alethes (aletheia), alethinos, and pistis. This already points to the fact that it includes several ideas, such as truth, truthfulness, and faithfulness. (p. 69)

Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck says that the Hebrew and Greek words are translated, as follows:

English translations, accordingly, have “true,” “faithful,” and “faithfulness.” That is why the trustworthiness of God is an attribute of the will as well as of the intellect. Veracity and truth, trustworthiness and faithfulness, are so closely associated that they cannot be split apart (Reformed, p. 202)

Norman Geisler defines it more straightforwardly:

The Hebrew word for truth (emet) means “firm,” “stable,” “faithful,” “reliable,” “correct.” The Greek word for truth (aletheia) means “truthful,” “dependable,” “upright,” “real.” In brief, the term truth, as used in Scripture, means “that which, because it corresponds to reality (the facts, the original), is reliable, faithful, and stable. Used of words, truth is telling it like it is. True statements are those that correspond to reality and, hence, are dependable. (p. 581, emphasis original).

Millard Erickson boils biblical truth to these synonyms, with integrity as the bigger category and these terms fitting under it: Genuineness, veracity, and faithfulness (pp. 260-62).

Now let’s move on past those theologians get right to the Bible. Here what the New Testament says:

In Greek the noun for faith is pistis (pronounced peace-teace), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13).

One key verses is, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1, NIV). This faith is directed to God, because we do not see him. Faith is very serious to God; it is his language. We live on the dim, dirt clod called planet earth, so the heavenly kingdom is invisible to us. We must believe–have faith–that it exists. It is a blessing that he reveals himself most clearly through his Son (Heb. 1:1-2).

BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it devotes four columns of fine print to define the noun.

1.. It is “that which evokes trust and faith, the state of being someone in whom confidence can be placed, faithfulness, fidelity, commitment” (Rom. 3:3; Tit. 2:10; 2 Tim. 1:4; 2 Tim. 4:7) That is, a person of pistis is faithful and committed. He will follow through. You can depend on him. This is the basic meaning in Gal. 5:22 (one fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness), says BDAG.

Pistis is “a solemn promise to be faithful and loyal, assurance, oath, troth.” So now we have narrowed the last definition to promise keeping. That is, a person of pistis is so consistent that he keeps all of his promises. As noted in the first definition, pistis can mean my and your faithfulness (Heb. 10:38). This definition also fits Gal. 5:22.

Now let’s explore other definitions.

2.. Pistis is “the state of believing on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted, trust, confidence, faith.” The application here is that you can put your trust, confidence and faith—your pistis—in someone who is reliable. So now we shift from your character to the one in whom you place your trust, faith, and confidence.

Specifically, you can place your trust, confidence, and trust in God and Christ and his finished work on the cross (Mark. 11:22; Acts 19:20). He won’t cast you aside, when you do. Abraham placed his pistis in God (Rom. 4:5, 9, 11-13, 16, 19). Then God declared him righteous.

Christ is the beginning and goal of faith (Heb. 10:38; 11:3; 13:7). Faith is the opposite of doubt (Matt. 17:20; Jas. 1:6; 5:15). We can place our faith and trust in him during our physical and spiritual stress, often in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 8:10; 9:2, 22, 29; 15:28; Mark 2:5; 4:40; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:23; 7:9, 50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42).

You can have faith and trust and confidence in his name (Acts 3:16a), in the gospel (Phil. 1:27), and truth (2 Thess. 2:13).

Pistis can stand alone without an object, indicating true piety and devotion or being a Christian believer (Luke 18:8; 22:32; Acts 6:5, 8; 11:24; 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 15:9; 16:5; Rom. 1:5, 8, 12, 17b. “Faith to faith” does not mean gradation, but faith is the beginning and end.

Joy can come from faith (Eph. 2:8; 3:17; 4:5, 13; 6:6; Phil. 1:25). There are such things as the word of faith (Rom. 10:8), words of faith (1 Tim. 4:6); and the mystery of faith (1 Tim. 3:9).

God has opened the door of faith to the Gentiles; that is, they now have a relationship with the true God (Acts 14:27).

Faith and love are often coupled (1 Thess. 3:6; 5:8; 1 Tim. 1:14; 2 Tim. 1:13; Phm. 5) or with love and other fruit (2 Cor. 8:7; Eph. 6:23; 1 Tim. 2:15; 4:12; 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22; Tit. 2:2; Rev. 2:19. Faith, hope and love (1 Cor. 13:13; see also Col. 1:4ff; 1 Thess. 1:3; 5:8). Hope and faith are put together (1 Pet. 1:21). This means that these Christian virtues grow together.

Pistis can mean fidelity to Christian teaching, which must be worked out with good deeds (Jas. 2:14, 17, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26). It can also lead to freedom or strength–conviction (Rom. 14:22 and 23).

3.. It is “that which is believed, body of faith / belief / teaching” (Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22, 27; 16:5; Rom. 1:5; 12:6; Phil. 1:27; Gal. 1:23; 6:10; Eph. 4:5; 1 Tim. 1:13; 1:19; 4:1, 6; 6:10, 21; 2 Tim. 2:18; 4:7; Tit. 2:2; Jas. 2:17; Jude 3). The point here is to get one’s basic beliefs settled. No, one does not need complicated theology, but faith in Christ and God is a good start. The rest of this website is designed to help you with more thorough beliefs and doctrines.

A major theme in Romans and Galatians is that believers or “faithers” are declared righteous or justified by faith without works (Rom. 3:28, 30; 4:5, 11, 12-13, 16; 5:1-2; 9:30-32; 10:6; Gal. 2:16; 3:8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 22, 24; 5:5). Peter and Paul and others preach salvation through faith in the name of Jesus throughout Acts (Acts 3:16; 14:9; 15:9; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18). This introduces a new way of living from Judaism, which is more about obedience to the law.

The adjective pistos (pronounced peace-toss and used 67 times) is almost always translated by the NIV as “faithful,” “trustworthy,” “reliable,” and “can be trusted.” It is sometimes translated as “believer” or “believe.” So once again “faithful” and “faith” are closely linked.

Let’s cover one more element, the verb.

The verb is pisteuō (pronounced pea-stew-oh), and it is used 241 times. It means to “believe, be convinced of something.” In a more specific definition it goes in a direction: “to have faith in Christ or God” (Mounce p. 61). This is much better than a vague believing in oneself or the universe. Believe in Jesus first, then study Scripture slowly as you move along. When you advance, you can study basic doctrine.

Sidebar issue: The Greek noun and verb are much more clearly related to each other than our noun “faith” and our verb “believe.” It is a pity that English does not have such a clear connection, though we do have belief and believe. Sometimes I think we need to start a movement and have the verb “faithe” for “believe,” and “faithers” for “believers,” modeled on the noun “breath” (faith) and the verb “breathe” (faithe) and “breathers” (faithers). One TV teacher, now deceased, was a nonconformist about his life and this tweaking of the words. He’s the one who said “faitheing” and “faithers.” It didn’t catch on. Maybe it should, however.

So how does this post help me grow in Christ?

Believing is the currency of heaven. We have faith in Jesus and his salvation first. And then we believe in him for everything else, like walking in holiness, healing, and the gifts of the Spirit. All good things flow from our faith in Jesus Christ apart from works of the law.

The opposite of believing is doubting. You may have doubts, but starve those doubts through the power of the Spirit. Ask God to fill you more. The second way is to starve your doubts by feeding your faith, and this happens when you study Scripture. As you study Scripture, say key verses that are meaningful to you out loud. Speak them out.

As to faithfulness, only the Father by the Spirit living in you can work in you consistency, reliability, dependability, trustworthiness—all synonyms of faithfulness. Only the Father by the Spirit living in you can work in you those virtues or qualities, so that people can put their confidence in you at your work and your family life. You will be honest and reliable. Then they will see your character and good works that flow from your good character and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).


Do I Really Know God? He Is Truth


Works Cited

At that link, look for Mounce.

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