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Faith and the closely related concept of faithfulness are central to Biblical thought. They deal with the relationship of God and humanity. They are in some respects correlative, for man’s faith is that which responds to and is sustained by God’s faithfulness. In other respects there can be a progression of thought, for faith on the part of man should lead to his faithfulness. Again, the idea of faith can move from the subjective attitude of trustfulness to “the faith”—that which God has revealed objectively through deed and word and sign in order that it should be trusted.

Associated closely with the two nouns is the adjective faithful and the verb have faith in, trust, or believe. In some parts of the Bible the verb is more prominent than the noun. As always in the Scriptures, the divine initiative is emphasized or assumed, and the fact that the living God is willing to enter into relationship with men and has shown them that He is worthy of their trust is what gives Biblical faith its distinctive character. Faith as it is demonstrated in the Old Testament is a necessary, but incomplete preliminary to its full possibility through Jesus Christ|Christ in the New Testament.

Etymology of the English term

Faith occurs in the form feyth in Havelok the Dane (13th century); it is akin to fides and this again to the Sanskrit root bhidh, "to unite," "to bind." These terms suggest the spiritual work of faith: it unites man to God for salvation.


Studying the word faith in the light of use and context, we find two different senses of the term used in the Bible. We may distinguish the two senses as the passive and the active.

On the active side are "fidelity," "trustworthiness"; and "faith;" on the passive side is "trust." In Ga 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, Ro 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 rendered 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 (Mt 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."

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 Jas 2:14-26, where an apparent contradiction to other Pauline writing 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 Jas 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 De 6:4), taken as a means to salvation. Briefly, James presses the futility of creed without life, Paul the necessity of reliance in order to receive "life and peace."

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.

Faith and faithfulness in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament the verb to believe occurs only thirty times, but this comparative infrequency does not adequately reflect the importance of the place of faith in the Old Testament scheme of things. The New Testament draws all its examples of faith from the lives of Old Testament believers (e.g., Rom.4.18ff.; Heb.11.1-Heb.11.40; Jas.2.14ff.), and Paul rests his doctrine of faith on the word of Hab.2.4. It would thus be true to say that the Old Testament demands faith more than it develops an explicit doctrine of faith. It looks for, and finds in its great individuals, a true commitment of self to God, an unwavering trust in his promises, and a persistent fidelity and obedience.

The foundation of Israel’s faith was the Lord’s revelation of himself to the Patriarch|patriarchs and to Moses, the covenant that he sealed at Sinai, and the conviction that God would keep his covenant promises. The observance of law and the life of faith were in no way incompatible because the law rested on the promises of God and obedience was motivated by a believing conviction that he would stand by what he had said. In connection, for example, with the sacrifice|sacrifices that the law commanded, we need to remind ourselves that the Old Testament believer did not offer his sacrifice with any thought in mind of the perfect sacrifice of Christ that was yet to come. He did not (at that point) think of himself as doing something “pro tem” or as doing something that was allowed to be effective because the “real thing” was some day going to be done. He acted in simple faith in the promises of God. If asked how he knew his sin|sins were forgiveness|forgiven, he would no doubt first reply that he was there and had seen the appropriate sacrifice offered. But if the question were pressed, why the sacrifice was effective, he would reply, “Because he said so.” In this way personal faith—in exactly the same terms as Paul later developed in the doctrine of justification by faith—is the presupposition behind the provisions and prescriptions of the old covenant. Obedience to the Lord’s law was the way of life incumbent on those who trusted him. Old Testament faith is never a mere assent to a set of doctrines or the outward acceptance of a legal code, but utter confidence in the faithfulness of God and a consequent loving obedience to his will.

When used with a religious application, faith in the Old Testament is sometimes in a specific word or work of God (Lam.4.12; Hab.1.5), or in the fact of God’s revelation (Exod.4.5; Job.9.16), or in the words or commandments of God in general (Ps.119.66), or in God himself (Gen.15.6). Faith is put in the word of God’s prophets because they speak for him, and he is absolutely trustworthy (Exod.19.9; 2Chr.20.20). New Testament writers, especially Paul and the author of Hebrews, show that the faith manifested by Old Testament saint|saints was not different in kind from that expected of Christians.


There are three main word groups in the Old Testament, which are used to describe these ideas. There are also a number of other words and ideas which are related to them.

אֵמוּן, H574

בֶּ֫טַח, H1055

חָסָה, H2879

The meaning of this word is “to take refuge” and in the Old Testament it is used predominantly in a religious sense (Ps 7:1). Its chief usage is in the Psalter, where its devotional meaning is clear. The LXX renders it likewise mainly by pépoitha and elpízō.

Other Terms

There are various other words which are closely associated with the idea of faith and faithfulness in the Old Testament, particularly those which denote hope (חָכָה, H2675, יָחַל, H3498, and קָוָה, H7747). Of even greater importance is the word חֶ֫סֶד, H2876, because it denotes the relationship of God and man and of man and man under the covenant. It was the covenant which formed the heart of Israel’s religion and which gave faithfulness and faith their fullest opportunity for expression.

Theological presentation

The idea of a faithful God and men who are called to faith in Him is absolutely fundamental to Old Testament religion. It will be possible here only to outline some areas in which this is represented, even where none of the “faith words” actually appear.

Creation and providence

The faithfulness of God who has made the world and all that is in it, who orders it regularly and provides for His creatures is abundantly illustrated in a nature psalm such as Psalm 104. It is a demonstration of the fact that all is under the control of a God who can be relied upon. This produces in the believing beholder a response of exultation in His might and majesty.


Promises and signs

In the Old Testament God is not represented simply as doing things in history. He also is shown to promise them by word and by symbolic deed. The most important instance of God’s promises in the Old Testament is found in the story of Abraham. From Genesis 12:1-3 onward, the unlikely promises of God to Abraham of a land and descendants were slowly but surely, against all the odds, being fulfilled. The greatness of Abraham was found in the fact that “he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). Faith in the God of the impossible brought Abraham into a new relationship with Him, which, of course, also needed obedience as its outworking (22:15-18). The intellectual, the moral and the spiritual aspects of faith all can be seen intertwined in his character. The faithfulness of God is written large upon his page of history.

The other particular instance where the faithful fulfillment of God’s promises is noted, is in the establishment of the House of David|Davidic house (1 Kings 8:1-66). This was something clung to even in the nation’s darkest hour, but inevitably with a new dimension added to it (Jer 33:14-26). The Prophet|prophets had to look ahead through history to a more glorious age when the Messiah would come. There were many other cases when the prophets interpreted the times and spoke predictively in the name of Yahweh, and He performed what He said He would. In every such case they required a response of faith in their hearers.

In addition to the faithfulness of God shown in words which came true, there were signs as visible words. Notable signs were performed before the Exodus so that people might believe that God was in action redeeming His people (Exod 4:1-5). On occasion a man could receive guidance from Yahweh by a special sign (Judg 6:36-40). These were to give men confidence, provided that their attitude to Him was right (Isa 7:3-17). If men did not believe, they could not be established.

The covenant

The focus of God’s faithful dealing with His people and their response to Him is in the covenant relationship which He established with them. A covenant was a binding obligation between two parties, and in the case of a covenant in which Yahweh was involved, it was always He who took the initiative and who was the dominant partner in the relationship. The basic terms of a covenant were, “I will be your God and you shall be my people”—it was a corporate relationship to Him out of which various obligations sprang. The covenant with Noah included promises of blessing to his descendants and to all flesh (Gen 6:18; 9:9-17). The covenant with Abraham was based on the promises of God, with the seal of circumcision as a reminder of God’s undertaking and men’s obligation (17:1-14). The covenant with the people of Israel after the Exodus was linked with that made with Abraham (Exod 2:24); it was sealed with blood and included the stipulation of obedience on the part of the people (24:7f.). Under Joshua the people renewed the covenant with promises of obedience (Josh 24:24f.). God made a covenant with David and His descendants (2 Sam 7:12-17) and the way in which this demonstrated His faithfulness is brought out most strikingly in Psalm 89.

The fact that Yahweh had entered into covenant with His people in these different ways was the basis for much exhortation to the people to be true to Him. The book of Deuteronomy constantly dwells upon His faithfulness and the obligations of the covenant nation. The penalties of unfaithfulness also are brought home. Most of the prophets seem to have had the idea of the covenant somewhere in their thought, but in Hosea the theme of God’s loyalty and man’s disloyalty is absolutely basic to the whole book. The northern kingdom went into captivity because of its failure to observe the covenant (2 Kings 17:15-38), and the southern kingdom had to reform itself drastically when reaffirming the covenant under Josiah (2 Kings 23:1-4). It was Jeremiah’s great achievement that he saw that outward reform could not go far enough and that unfaithfulness to an outward covenant was unavoidable. Hence the dramatic new spiritual prospects opened up through his prophecy of the new covenant (Jer 31:31-34).

The religion of the Old Testament was dominated by the law. No Israelite could conceivably be ignorant of the fact that he was under obligation to be faithful to God. Yet at its best, Israel saw that law was not legalism and that the claims of God for their complete loyalty were based upon His prior action in loyalty to His obligations freely entered into by the divine promise (Exod 20:1-3). But when Yahweh had revealed Himself in the way that He had, the call to obedience could never be divorced from the invitation to faith.


The main thrust of the Old Testament is concerned with God and His people as a whole, but it would be wrong to infer from that, that there was no such thing as individual, personal faith. That is abundantly illustrated at all periods of Israel’s history. The personal faith of Abraham, Moses, David, or Elijah is something real and important as well as the national faith. The Psalms afford abundant examples of trust in Yahweh through thick and thin. They often are couched in tones of deep personal devotion. God’s faithfulness is the one thing which can be relied upon, and it is under the shadow of His wings that the children of men take their refuge (Ps 36:5-7).

So we see faith and faithfulness in the Old Testament. The God who acts gives signs and promises, and enters into relationship with His people. Man is utterly dependent upon Him and is called upon to acknowledge that dependence and to obey His will. The covenant is the undergirding of the nation’s life and in his personal life “the righteous will live by his faith” (or faithfulness) (Hab 2:4). Any confidence in anyone or anything to the exclusion of God is condemned (Ps 146), yet there is an overflowing of the concept of faithfulness to dealings with fellow men (2 Sam 2:5). The prophets were insistent that relationship with God must lead to just dealing with neighbors, and the psalmist sees that the man who dwells with God and is truly established is the man who can be relied upon in all his dealings with others (Ps 15). Behind it all is the character of the God of the covenant whose faithfulness was proclaimed in the great congregation (Ps 40:9f.).

Faith and faithfulness in Judaism

The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

While these writings drew freely upon their Old Testament heritage, there can be seen an increasing institutionalization of the idea of faith and faithfulness. In particular, the observance of the law was closely involved with it (Ecclus 32:24). The defense of the law and institutions of Israel as an expression of faith is found movingly portrayed in the struggles of the Maccabees. In the Diaspora there grew up an emphasis upon the greatness of the God of Israel as opposed to the pointless polytheism of the nations. This is shown particularly in some sections of the Wisdom of Solomon. There also was developed the absolute use of the term “the faithful” (οἱ πιστοί), as the pious, contrasted with unbelievers inside and outside Judaism (Wisd Sol 3:9-15). In these processes there was some movement also toward a concept of faith which was more intellectual and less a matter of personal trust. In the apocalyptic books faith was much more connected with the future and therefore in some respects would be better described as “hope.” In the coming Eschatology|eschatological judgment, it is the faithful remnant who will be vindicated.


Philo’s understanding of the Old Testament was influenced greatly by his knowledge of Greek philosophy, in particular that of Plato. As a Jew he believed in the greatness of the one God, but rather than seeing Him as active in history he sought Him through withdrawing from the world. The phenomenal world was essentially insubstantial, and true security could be found only in a mystical relationship with the ultimate reality in God. To him we owe the description of faith as “queen of Virtue|virtues.”


There is considerable emphasis in the Qumran documents upon the faithfulness of God. The community, inevitably as a group within a larger whole, thought of itself as a faithful remnant. As with many other groups in later Judaism, their stress was not so much upon an active personal trust in God as in a loyal obedience to His commandments. The Habakkuk commentary emphasizes both faith in the Teacher of Righteousness (especially in the truth of His teachings) and in God’s vindication of them.

The rabbis

What was true of the Apocalypse and Pseudepigrapha as far as the institutionalizing of faith was concerned, was even more marked in the case of much of the rabbinic literature faith is connected closely with obedience, and faith easily becomes faith in the tradition of the elders and obedience a legalistic keeping of the law and its many subtle interpretations. There were among the rabbis men of personal trust in the living God, but it became fatally easy for this to be obscured by an over emphasis upon the Torah.

Faith and faithfulness in Greek thought


There is a clear interrelation between the ideas of faith and faithfulness in the usage of words of the πίστις, G4411, group in classical Greek. Both the adjective pistós and the noun pístis can be used in an active or a passive sense—they can refer either to trusting or to being worth trusting. The verb πιστεύω, G4409, could express trust in persons or things. There was nothing necessarily religious about these terms, although they could be used in the area of religion. But none of the words standing by themselves would immediately suggest a religious significance.


It was in this period that pisteúō became one of the words which could be used regularly to denote belief that there were gods. At the same time pistis began to acquire a flavor of piety, for the belief in the existence of gods naturally extended to a recognition that they had some claims upon human allegiance. Likewise there followed the belief in certain theological propositions, with particular reference to the invisible world and man’s relationship to it. The word group really came into its own when there was competition between various religions and each proclaimed the necessity of faith in the truth for which it claimed to stand. The concept might vary in its intellectual or moral content, but in the mystery religions it was seen as the way of illumination and salvation. While there are clear differences in the object and nature of faith between Hebrew and Greek writings, pistis and its cognates were ready-made for the LXX translation when they wished to render ē’mūn and its cognates into Greek.

Faith and faithfulness in the New Testament

In contrast with the extreme rarity with which the terms “faith” and “believe” are used in the Old Testament, they occur with great frequency in the New Testament—almost five hundred times. A principal reason for this is that the New Testament makes the claim that the promised Messiah had finally come, and, to the bewilderment of many, the form of the fulfillment did not obviously correspond to the Messianic promise. It required a real act of faith to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah. It was not long before “to believe” meant to become a Christian. In the New Testament, faith therefore becomes the supreme human act and experience.

In his miracle|miracles and teaching, Jesus aimed at creating in his disciples a complete trust in himself as the Messiah and Savior of men. Everywhere he offered himself as the object of faith and made it plain that faith in him is necessary for eternal life, that it is what God required of Old Testament men, and that refusal to accept his claims will bring eternal ruin. His primary concern with his own disciples was to build up their faith in him.

The record in Acts shows that the first Christians called themselves “the believers” (Acts.2.44) and that they went everywhere persuading men and bringing them into obedience to the faith that is in Jesus (Acts.6.7; Acts.17.4; Acts.28.24). Before long, as communities of believers arose in various parts of the Mediterranean world, the apostolic leaders had to teach them more fully the meaning and implications of the Christian faith, and so the New Testament books appeared.

It is in Paul’s letters that the meaning of faith is most clearly and fully set forth. Faith is trust in the person of Jesus, the truth of his teaching, and the redemptive work he accomplished at Calvary, and, as a result, a total submission to him and his message, which are accepted as from God. Faith in his person is faith in him as the eternal Son of God, the God-man, the second man Adam, who died in man’s stead, making possible justification with God, adoption into his family, sanctification, and, ultimately, glorification. His death brings redemption from sin in all its aspects. The truth of his claims is attested by God’s raising him from the dead. Some day he will judge the living and the dead. Faith is not to be confused with a mere intellectual assent to the doctrinal teachings of Christianity, though that is obviously necessary. It includes a radical and total commitment to Christ as the Lord of one’s life.

Unbelief, or lack of faith in the Christian gospel, appears everywhere in the New Testament as the supreme evil. Not to make a decisive response to God’s offer in Christ means that the individual remains in sin and is eternally lost. Faith alone can save him.


There is no need to emphasize the centrality of the concept of faith in the New Testament. The words that are used to express it are almost always those of the pistis group. Despite the usage of the LXX in rendering ’emeth and ’emūnāh by alētheia, that word and its cognates almost always denotes in the New Testament truth, reality, and genuiness. There is an association with the concept of faithfulness quite frequently because what is true is also trustworthy. By and large the field has been left entirely to pístis and the words related to it.




The adjective pistós also may be used both technically and nontechnically, and in both active and passive senses. It is commonly used of the reliability of servants or stewards (1 Cor 4:2). God is supremely the One in whom confidence may be placed (1:9), but His word and His promises are also reliable (Rev 21:5). Statements of Christian truth also may be trusted (1 Tim 1:15). When pistós is used in the active sense to mean believing, it is only as a technical term (John 20:27). It also can be used almost as the equivalent of “a Christian” (Acts 16:1).

Negative words

There are a number of privative formations of words in the pístis group which may be found in the New Testament. Apistéō means to disbelieve in a general sense (Luke 24:41) or in a specific sense of being an unbeliever (1 Pet 2:7). It likewise can be used in the sense of being disloyal (Rom 3:3). Apistós may be used in the passive sense of “incredible” (Acts 26:8), but more often means “unbelieving” (John 20:27). The adjective can be used as a term for non-Christians (1 Cor 6:6). The noun apistía may refer both to unfaithfulness (Rom 3:3) and also to unbelief (4:20). The compound oligó pistos, “of little faith,” is a word virtually found nowhere except in the synoptic gospels.

The usage of the New Testament writers

The synoptic gospels

God’s faithfulness

God is portrayed in the first three gospels mainly under two figures—as King and as Father. Each of these concepts is associated in some way with the idea of His faithfulness. The kingdom of God comes not out of the blue, but because the time is fulfilled (Mark 1:15). The first two chapters of Luke’s gospel give a vivid picture of people who were waiting for God to fulfill His promises made under the Old Covenant (Luke 2:25, 38). Those who see the beginning of the fulfillment rejoice in His faithfulness. The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) is a song of praise to God who “has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever” (Luke 1:54f.). The Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) likewise is a celebration of the faithfulness of God who has acted “to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to our father Abraham” (Luke 1:72f.). The opening chs. of Matthew’s gospel also commemorate the faithfulness of the Lord who fulfilled what He had spoken through the prophets (Matt 1:22f.). This theme of fulfillment of Scripture is found elsewhere in the gospels, but it is a particular emphasis which is found throughout Matthew.

When God is spoken of as Father, there is conveyed the idea of His faithfulness in loving and providing for His children. This theme is particularly brought out in the Sermon on the Mount (with parallels in Luke). It is the Father who in His faithful providence “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (5:45). It is He who is faithful in rewarding those who do His will (6:4, 6, 18). It is He who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass of the field—how much more will He provide for His human children! The realization of this should lead men to trust Him in a way that will banish worry. Faith will mean taking His providence seriously and putting His claims first (6:25-34). It is absurd to suppose that human fathers with all their sinfulness would fail to give their children what they really needed. How much more is this true of the heavenly Father (Matt 7:7-11)!

Human faith

The response of men to the arrival of the reign of God in their midst in the Person of Jesus Christ was to be that they should “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Here faith is shown to be dependent upon the divine initiative. The kingdom comes whether men hear or whether they forbear, but the claim which it makes is faith. This faith is centered in the Gospel, or, the good news of God’s redeeming action. There is therefore at least to some extent an intellectual content to faith. Its moral content is emphasized by its close association with repentance.

The miracles of Jesus were signs of the coming of the kingdom of God. In some cases faith was a necessary prerequisite for their performance by Jesus (Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52) and also for the forgiveness which was associated with many of the healing Miracle|miracles. He was astonished at the unbelief of His own countrymen (6:5f.). During a storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith in His ability to exercise the power of the Creator in stilling the storm (4:35-41). The same power that He had to heal was also available to those who had faith in God, for “All things are possible to him who believes” (9:23f.). The command of Jesus is therefore, “Have faith in God.” Where there is such faith, the results of believing prayer will be remarkable (11:22-24). The moral and intellectual sides of faith are seen to stand together.

The unexpected faith of some which Jesus commended warmly (Luke 7:9) was in marked contrast to the unbelief of professed believers. The chief priests were aware that they had not believed John the Baptist (Mark 11:30f.). Jesus asserted that they would not believe Him if He told them that He was the Christ (Luke 22:67). They mockingly suggested that they would believe if He would come down from the cross (Mark 15:32). Even the disciples were slow to believe all that the prophets had spoken (Luke 24:25). Yet God had given them the mystery of the kingdom of God, whereas others were taught in Parable|parables to confirm them in their blindness (Mark 4:11f.). Luke emphasizes that the purpose of Satan|Satanic activity is to prevent men from believing and being saved (Luke 8:12).

An interesting and significant feature of the gospels is the portrayal of the faith which Jesus had in God. This is illustrated well by the way in which He addressed God as His Father. He could use the intimate word Abba and show complete dependence upon Him and His will (Mark 14:36). In a famous saying, similar in thought and style to John’s gospel, He reveals the complete mutual trust between them and the possibility of others entering in some measure into the unique relationship of the Son to the Father. “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt 11:27; Luke 10:22). It is because of this relationship that He can tell His disciples to pray, “Our Father.” The faith of believers in a trustworthy God is nowhere better expressed than in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). In Matthew it is set in the context of teaching about the heavenly Father who knows His children’s needs, and who forgives His children’s sins when they are of a forgiving disposition themselves. Here one sees clearly the personal and moral connotations of faith in God (Matt 6:7f., 14f.).

There is not revealed in the synoptic gospels the fullness of Christian faith, for that was essentially something which came after the Resurrection and Pentecost. The faithfulness of God revealed in the Old Testament is given a new dimension with the coming of Jesus Christ and the practice of a new intimacy with Him is inaugurated through the life of His Son.

John’s gospel and epistles

The gospel and epistles are treated together without any judgment being passed about their common authorship. It is clear that they belong to the same school of thought and the concept of faith in them is similar.

God’s faithfulness

The only use of a word from the pístis group ascribed to God is in 1 John 1:9 where He is said to be “faithful and just, and will forgive our sins.” The word alēthēs, “true,” is sometimes used of God in the Johannine writings and its meaning is often not far from that of faithfulness (John 3:33). There is the idea found in the synoptics of the fulfillment of Scripture (13:18; 17:12; 19:24, 28, 36f.). God is portrayed as the Author and unseen Director of the whole drama in which Jesus is the leading Actor. Yet there is relatively little that stresses directly God’s faithfulness. It is rather assumed, in contrast to faith in God which is made vividly explicit throughout the gospel.

The nature of faith

There are numerous other words which are used alongside pisteúō in the gospel which help us to a clearer understanding of its meaning. The noun pístis is not found in the gospel at all and occurs only once in the Johannine epistles. The victory which overcomes the world is described as “our faith” (1 John 5:4). It may well be that the meaning here is “our creed.” The reason why John did not use gnōsis, “knowledge,” is generally understood to be that the gnosticism|Gnostics had made it their own. It is less easy to see why pístis is not used. It may be that the increasing application of it to “the faith” would have made its use somewhat misleading when John wrote. It also is possible that the use of the verb gives a more vivid representation of a dynamic relationship.

There are some Metaphor|metaphorical expressions which seem to be illustrative of faith. Believing is said to be the same as “receiving” Christ (1:11f.; 5:43f.). It also can be said to be “coming to” Christ (6:35; 7:37f.). It is associated closely with loving Him also (16:27), and indeed is connected in some way or other with all the leading ideas of the gospel.

The object of faith

The basis of faith

As such tremendous importance is attached to faith in John’s gospel, the evangelism|evangelist emphasizes the solid foundation which any faith in Jesus will have. The concept of evidence (marturía) is referred to frequently as something which leads the way to faith. John the Baptist came for the purpose of bearing “witness to the light, that all might believe through him” (John 1:7). Jesus had greater testimony than that of John to lead people to faith. There was the evidence of His deeds and the evidence of His Father Himself, but their disbelief of Jesus showed their failure to receive the Father’s word (5:30-40). In the First Epistle of John it is stated that there is divine as well as human testimony to Jesus as the Son of God. It is meant to lead men to believe in Him. Those who do not are making God a liar by refusing to believe the evidence which He has given (1 John 5:6-12). Jesus likewise gives His own testimony, which men do not receive (John 3:11).

In John, faith is related to both seeing and hearing. Seeing the Son is the natural preliminary to believing as far as His contemporaries are concerned (6:40), but it was possible to see and not to believe (6:36). Seeing the Father directly was not possible, but believing was the gateway to eternal life (6:46f.). Faith would lead on to seeing the glory of God (11:40). The faith of Thomas in the risen Christ was based upon sight, but Jesus pronounced a great benediction upon those who did not see and yet believed (20:29). The idea of sight varies between the literal and the metaphorical. In the former sense it may or may not be the prelude to faith. In the latter, believing is seeing. Hearing can likewise be a purely natural process, not leading on to faith (6:60-65). Men who do not hear God’s word in the words of Jesus cannot come to believe (8:43-47). On the other hand, men may hear His word and believe the Father who sent Him, and they find not judgment and death, but life (5:24).

On four occasions in John the preposition diá, “on account of,” is used to describe the immediate cause of belief. The purpose of John’s coming as a witness was, “that all might believe through him” (1:7). Many of the Samaritan|Samaritans from Sychar believed in Jesus because of the testimony of the woman whom He met at the well, though in the end the ground of their faith was rather His word than hers (4:39-42). Jesus prayed not only for His disciples but “for those who believe in me through their word” (17:20). It was not only the spoken word which had this effect; it was also the acted word. His disciples were urged to believe because of the works which He had done (14:11).

Some of the works were described as “signs.” They were not only miracles on the physical level but also dramatic illustrations of the spiritual life which Jesus brought. They were therefore meant to bring men to believe in Jesus (2:11, 23; 4:50, 53), though often they were the cause of conflict (11:45-47; 12:9-11). No more than in the synoptic gospels is Jesus willing to provide mere wonder-working as a basis for faith (4:48).

The result of faith

The development of faith

Human faithfulness

While the pístis words are used almost entirely in the sense of putting one’s trust in Jesus or God, if the correct reading of John 20:31 is a present subjunctive, it will mean “hold the faith” (New English Bible), suggesting an attitude of continuing faithfulness. Only those who continued in His word were truly Jesus’ disciples (8:31). They were to “abide” or remain in Him and keep His commandments (15:1-11). Their faithfulness to each other was described as “love,” which was derived from His prior love for them and was the mark of true discipleship (13:34f.; 15:12).

The Acts of the Apostles

God’s faithfulness

Men’s faith

None of the words of the pístis group is used to describe human faithfulness, but this idea is found in relation to God when the verb prosménō (“to remain”) is used (11:23; 13:43). Loyalty to God and to the Christian brotherhood is implicit throughout the book and perhaps finds clearest expression in the incident involving Ananias and Sapphira (4:32-5:11).

The Pauline epistles

Neither Paul the man nor his writings can possibly be understood unless we grasp the meaning of faith to him. Ever since his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus the whole of his thinking and his life were dominated by the ideas of the faithfulness of God and the need for a responsive faith in man. If there is a systematic treatment of these themes only in Romans, their living reality bursts forth spontaneously again and again in the varied pastoral situations which he deals with in all the epistles. His entire doctrine of salvation, his entire theology, could be summed up under the heading of faith, but we shall have to concentrate on the passages where the pístis words or closely associated ideas are present.

God’s faithfulness

Another important subject illustrating the faithfulness of God is that of His promises. This is dealt with especially in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 and 4 where the story of Abraham is in mind. Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:21), and the promise was guaranteed to all his descendants (4:16). Christians, “like Isaac, are children of promise” (Gal 4:28).

Faith and the Gospel

Faith and justification

This then is the heart of the Gospel which had such power in the life of Paul and others (1:16), “for in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’” (1:17; citing Hab 2:4; cf. Gal 3:11). The emphasis of the prophet may well have been more on the continuing relationship of faithfulness than on the initial saving act of faith. The principle is the same—faith is the only way to receive righteousness and life.

Faith and relationship

The Life of faith

Human faithfulness

The faith

The negative words for unbelief are also found in Paul, mainly in Romans and the Pastoral Epistles, but the adjective apistós is used fourteen times in the Corinthian letters.

The Epistle to the Hebrews

God’s faithfulness

Man’s faith

Again he urges the readers “to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” and to hold fast the confession of their hope without wavering (10:19-25). They were not to throw away their confidence but to have faith and keep their souls, and he quotes Habakkuk 2:3, 4 rather more in its context than does Paul to reinforce his point (10:35-39).

The Epistle of James

There is a fair amount of reference in this epistle to the faithfulness of God. It is He who gives wisdom to all those who ask Him (James 1:5), and the crown of life which He has promised to those who love Him (1:12). Every good endowment and every perfect gift comes from Him and with Him “there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17). It is He whose mercy triumphs over judgment (2:13). His coming is certain though delayed (5:7-9). He will answer the prayer|prayers of the righteous (5:15-18).

Human faith or faithfulness must be tested to produce steadfastness (1:3). When it is exercised in prayer it must be without Doubt|doubting (1:6) and it can be used for the healing of the sick (5:15). “The faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” is to be held without partiality (2:1), for God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith (2:5). Most significant, however, in the epistle is the discussion of the relationship between faith and works (2:14-26). James insists that faith cannot save a man unless it has action to back it up. Even Abraham, the great type of justification by faith in the Old Testament, was justified by his action of offering Isaac. At first sight this seems to be a contradiction of Pauline teaching, but closer examination suggests that this is not likely. Faith is in this passage mere intellectual belief, such as the Demon|demons have—and shudder. Paul would never deny that such faith would need to be proved real by actions. Works are not treated as a way of earning salvation, as Paul treats them when setting them against faith. Justification also seems to be used rather differently, in the sense of outward vindication rather than of receiving a right relationship with God. It is quite probable that James was refuting perversions of Pauline teaching, but he does not seem to answer any known Pauline letter point by point. It is a healthy reminder that faith is no isolated part of religious experience, but has to determine all the actions of a man.

The Epistles of Peter and Jude

In 2 Peter and Jude pistós and pisteúō are not used positively. Faith is said to be “in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:1). Faith is treated as something which needs to be supplemented by virtue and various other qualities (1:5). “The faith” was something which “was once for all delivered to the saints” and had to be defended (Jude 3). It could be described as “your most holy faith” (Jude 20). Throughout the two epistles the need for steadfast faith and faithfulness is set against the background of widespread apostasy and the faithfulness of God. The judgment would come as promised (2 Pet 3:8-10) and God was “able to keep [them] from falling” (Jude 24).


Faith and faithfulness in New Testament theology

The New Testament sees God’s faithfulness in a new way, for many of the promises made in the Old Testament have been fulfilled, and God has so acted that there is little doubt that the others will be fulfilled also in due course. While the idea of God’s faithfulness in creation and providence is given a new depth through the life and ministry of Christ, it is essentially His faithfulness in redemption which is central to New Testament thought. What the Old Testament could only look forward to, the New Testament could look back upon. Things had come to their culmination in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ and in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The new covenant of forgiveness and the personal knowledge of God had come into its own. The faithful God had acted decisively for the redemption of the world.

The Gospel was therefore good news, to be believed and acted upon by all men. The kerygma recited the mighty acts of God and called men to repentance and faith on the basis of the divine initiative. So men of every nation, believing the facts of redemption on divine testimony, abandoned themselves completely to the love and mercy of God. In the face of opposition and persecution, they had hope; they stood fast by the unshakable realities of the Gospel and proved in the depths of human experience that God keeps faith.

Bibliography and Further Reading

  • J. Barr, Semantics of Biblical Language (1961), 161-205
  • E. C. Blackman in IDB (1962)
  • R. Bultmann and A. Weiser, Faith (1961)
  • C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (1935), 42-75 and Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (1953), 151-186
  • W. H. P. Hatch, The Pauline Idea of Faith (1917) and The Idea of Faith in Christian Literature (1920)
  • G. F. Moore, Judaism (1927-1930)
  • A. Richardson, Introduction to Theology of NT (1961), 19-34
  • G. von Rad, OT Theology (1963-1965).
  • B. B. Warfield in HDB (1906)