These two concepts are central to Biblical thought. They deal with the relationship of God and men. 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 OT is a necessary, but incomplete preliminary to its full possibility through Christ in the NT.
I. Faith and faithfulness in the OT
There are three main word groups in the OT, which are used to describe these ideas. There are also a number of other words and ideas which are related to them.
3. חָסָה, H2879. The meaning of this word is “to take refuge” and in the OT it is used predominantly in a religious sense (
4. There are various other words which are closely associated with the idea of faith and faithfulness in the OT, particularly those which denote hope (חָכָה, H2675, יָחַל, H3498, and קָוָה֒, H7747). Of even greater importance is the word חֶ֫סֶד֮, 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.
B. Theological presentation
The idea of a faithful God and men who are called to faith in Him is absolutely fundamental to OT 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.
1. 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
3. Promises and signs. In the OT 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 OT is found in the story of Abraham. From
The other particular instance where the faithful fulfillment of God’s promises is noted, is in the establishment of the Davidic house (
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 (
4. 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 (
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 (
The religion of the OT 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 (
5. Personal. The main thrust of the OT 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 (
So we see faith and faithfulness in the OT. 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) (
II. Faith and faithfulness in Judaism
A. The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. While these writings drew freely upon their OT 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 (
B. Philo. Philo’s understanding of the OT was influenced greatly by his knowledge of Gr. 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 virtues.”
C. Qumran. 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 (esp. in the truth of His teachings) and in God’s vindication of them.
D. The rabbis. What was true of the Apoc. and Pseudep. as far as the institutionalizing of faith was concerned, was even more marked in the case of much of the rabbinic lit. 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.
III. Faith and faithfulness in Greek thought
A. Classical. There is a clear interrelation between the ideas of faith and faithfulness in the usage of words of the πίστις, G4411, group in classical Gr. 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.
B. Hellenistic. 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 Heb. and Gr. writings, pistis and its cognates were ready-made for the LXX trs. when they wished to render ē’mūn and its cognates into Gr.
IV. Faith and faithfulness in the NT
A. Terminology. There is no need to emphasize the centrality of the concept of faith in the NT. 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 NT 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.
3. Pistós. 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 (
4. Negative words. There are a number of privative formations of words in the pístis group which may be found in the NT. Apistéō means to disbelieve in a general sense (
B. The usage of the NT writers
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” (
b. 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” (
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 (
The unexpected faith of some which Jesus commended warmly (
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 (
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 OT 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.
2. 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.
a. God’s faithfulness. The only use of a word from the pístis group ascribed to God is in
b. 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” (
There are some metaphorical expressions which seem to be illustrative of faith. Believing is said to be the same as “receiving” Christ (
d. The basis of faith. As such tremendous importance is attached to faith in John’s gospel, the 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” (
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 (
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” (
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 (
g. 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
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 (
4. 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.
Another important subject illustrating the faithfulness of God is that of His promises. This is dealt with especially in
This then is the heart of the Gospel which had such power in the life of Paul and others (
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.
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 (
6. 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 (
Human faith or faithfulness must be tested to produce steadfastness (
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” (
C. Faith and faithfulness in NT theology. The NT sees God’s faithfulness in a new way, for many of the promises made in the OT 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 NT thought. What the OT could only look forward to, the NT 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 stood fast by the unshakable realities of the Gospel and proved in the depths of human experience that God keeps faith. See Hope.
Bibliography B. B. Warfield in HDB (1906); W. H. P. Hatch, The Pauline Idea of Faith (1917); The Idea of Faith in Christian Literature (1920); G. F. Moore, Judaism (1927-1930); C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (1935), 42-75; C. H. Dodd, Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (1953), 151-186; J. Barr, Semantics of Biblical Language (1961), 161-205; R. Bultmann and A. Weiser, Faith (1961); A. Richardson, Introduction to Theology of NT (1961), 19-34; E. C. Blackman in IDB (1962); G. von Rad, OT Theology (1963-1965).