A Semantic Map of Faith


It will be clearest to begin with a basic semantic map of faith in the Bible, but it is necessary to issue a warning immediately against the etymological fallacy. James Barr pointed out in 1961 that lexical analysis is often distorted by the assumption that words possess a fixed kernel or essence of meaning that persists over time. In fact, words are sign-functions, in Umberto Eco’s (1976) words, specifically, rule-governed correlations between a signifier, or marker, and a signified, or notion/meaning. These correlations can shift in relation to contextual activators over time and sometimes do so dramatically. This is very much the case for faith in the Bible.

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A Semantic Map of Faith.

Hence, the translation dictionary edited by Louw et al. (1988–1989), attuned to the complexities of the situation, identifies six distinguishable notions that could be correlated with the principal Greek signifier for faith in the Bible, the noun pistis, and related markers. Fortunately, these differing notions in ancient Greek can still be mapped intelligibly in relation to one another as denoting various aspects of certain relationships.

In most close personal relationships one can speak of “trust” (using the noun pistis) and “trusting” (using the verb pisteuō) in someone deemed “trustworthy” (using the adjective pistos or the noun). Someone viewed as trustworthy might then be “entrusted” (using the verb in the passive) with something valuable, often money, an entity that could be denoted as a pistis. Conversely, someone wanting to be seen as trustworthy could offer a token of reliability in a pledge—perhaps an oath, a shake of the right hand, or a ring—which could be called a pistis as well. Moreover, a trustworthy person is often, although not necessarily, characterized by “loyalty.” And a person who is trustworthy and/or loyal over time, especially under duress, can be spoken of as “faithful” or having “fidelity.” These last virtues overlap but are not synonymous. So the usual ancient Greek markers for faith denoted a number of distinguishable but related notions.

Truster/trust/trusting/ → [perception of X as] trustworthy and/or loyal and/or faithful

Truster → thing entrusted (often money) → trusted/trustworthy

Truster ← pledge (e.g., ring) ← trusted/trustworthy

This semantic map yields three main distinguishable meanings for faith, two of which contain further internal variations:

1. 1. Trust

2. 2. Thing entrusted, whether to the trusted (token to be kept safe) or the truster (token evoking trust)

3. 3. (a) Trustworthiness, (b) loyalty, (c) faithfulness

However, these signifiers function analogously in terms of truth relations where they denote something more specific. We can observe in the data, corresponding to the person trusted, a notion that can be trusted and hence is true or reliable. Greek did not generally denote this with a pist- term, preferring signifiers like alētheia (“truth,” and this could cross over into the interpersonal situation to denote someone who was true in the sense of being reliable and faithful; see Rom 3:3–4). The act of trust at the other end of this truth relationship is the act of “belief,” that is, the affirmation of something as true, for which the verb pisteuō and the noun pistis denote “believe” and “belief,” respectively. But some proofs often mediate between the things ultimately believed to be true and the person convinced by and hence believing in them, in the way that tokens of trust traveled between people. These could be denoted with pistis as well—Philo’s favorite usage (Campbell, 2005, pp. 178–182). Rather earlier, Aristotle spent some time articulating the need for such proofs or pisteis in rhetoric and discussing their nature (Rhet., esp. 1.2; 3.13, 17).

Believing/belief ↔ proof(s) ↔ [truth]

These realizations add two further principal meanings to the developing semantic map:

1. 4. Belief/believing

2. 5. Proof

However, the Christian tradition was so concerned with believing that it eventually identified certain beliefs as critical—the key notions that had to be believed. These were denoted with (among other things) pist- terms and so became known as “the Faith,” introducing pist- terminology into a location largely unfamiliar to previous Greek usage and generating a sixth principal meaning.

Belief/believing in → the key things believed/the Faith

1. 6. The Faith

When the Bible speaks of faith, then, one must be sensitive in lexical semantic terms to six possible notions, some of which subdivide further internally; and this is one reason the translation “faith” must itself be used cautiously. It can elide the differences between some of these notions unhelpfully, and they are not normally all in play at once. If one speaks of the faith of a Christian, is one speaking of an act of believing, the specific content of believing, or fidelity?

The Bible displays different levels of interest in each of the notions just identified. It is well aware of trust (meaning 1), but this is not denoted a great deal with pist- terms or their Semitic equivalents. Tokens of trust or pledges are present but are not usually denoted with pistis either (meaning 2; notionally in Gen 38:17–18, 20; but see 1 Tim 5:12). Much more prevalent, especially in the Old Testament, are the overlapping notions of trustworthiness, loyalty, and fidelity (meaning 3; see esp. the Hebrew ʾĕmûnâ; this is also the Septuagint’s [LXX’s] most common usage). Belief/believing (meaning 4) surges into prominence in the New Testament. Conversely, proofs are rare, both notionally and lexically (meaning 5; see Rom 3:25–26 notionally; but see Acts 3:16; 17:31). Finally, the notion of the Faith (meaning 6) emerges, at least in this lexical form, in the latest stratum of the New Testament. In what follows, I will focus on notion 4, belief, and, to a lesser extent, on notions 3 and 6, that is, trustworthiness/loyalty/fidelity and the Faith. And I will do so from a theological rather than a historicizing point of view, beginning with the New Testament data.

It makes little sense to discuss faith in the Bible in its various forms on the historicizing assumption that these have been generated by a causal process immanent to history and therefore ought to be analyzed strictly in terms of their temporal antecedents. Faith presents itself in the Bible in relation to revelation, an event in which God enters history from outside, so to speak, to engage with its protagonists, in part to correct and even to refashion them, including their thinking. So there is no neutral starting point from which to analyze it. Moreover, to abandon a theological perspective at the outset would risk distorting these data fundamentally and irreversibly (Kerr, 2009). The New Testament’s principal notion of faith, belief/believing (meaning 4), is usefully discussed in terms of two groups of material: (basically) non-Pauline Saving Faith and the Pauline Comprehensive Faith (this last category including the small pool of related NT data).

Faith in Non-Pauline Saving Faith.

Despite numerous differences, all four Gospels, much of Acts, the book of Revelation, and several of the New Testament’s non-Pauline letters, especially Hebrews, speak of faith in much the same way. Statistics are indicative (not determinative). The New Testament uses the noun pistis around 243 times, the verb pisteuō 241 times, and pistos and pist- variations another 95 times—almost 600 instances in total. The non-Pauline texts account for 40 percent of the noun’s usage, almost 80 percent of the verb’s, and 50 percent of the remaining forms—around 250 instances. Faith in these texts tends to occur in a distinctive setting—in direct association with overt acts of divine power.

In the Gospels and much of Acts faith is mentioned in relation to stories like the healing of a centurion’s servant, the raising of paralytics and the disabled, the healing of a bleeding woman and of blind men, the deliverance of an epileptic child, the stilling of a storm, the cleansing of lepers, and the creation of food from a few loaves for large crowds. These miracle stories dominate the data strikingly (Mark 2:1–5; 4:37–41; 5:21–43; 9:14–29; 10:46–52; 11:12–14, 20–23 and parallels; Luke 7:1–10//Matt 8:5–13; Luke 17:11–19; John 2:1–11; 4:46–54; ch. 6; ch. 9; Acts 3:1–16; 13:6–12; 14:8–10). And the meaning of faith, whether as a noun or a verb, in these stories is obvious. It denotes belief.

People are commended for believing that Jesus can perform the dramatic act in question. “Your belief has saved you,” Jesus says to both a persistently bleeding woman and to blind Bartimaeus (Mark 5:34; 10:52, author’s translation; although 9:24 nuances this subtly; see Marcus, 2009). But in order to appreciate this basic suggestion from the data it is necessary to recall that New Testament discussions are unaffected by what one might call Cartesianism and its legacy (Gunton, 2006).

Any intellectual posture traceable back to Descartes (if not earlier) is likely to view beliefs with a degree of doubt. Descartes was confident of his own existence only because in the act of doubting, this very reflection seemed to affirm his reality. But everything else remained somewhat questionable. Those influenced ultimately by figures like Hume assert in addition that beliefs are valid only if they have been corroborated by a certain sort of evidence. Hence, when someone says in a modern context “I believe X”—especially when X is a transcendent God—the connotation is often that others hold different, equally plausible views, any one of which might be right. Or this belief is simply dubious, lacking any evidence (Gunton, 2006; Amesbury, 2012). In an attendant tradition often traced, not entirely fairly, to Kierkegaard, some have suggested, partly by way of response, that theological beliefs are simply an act of the will, a “leap into the dark,” and hence an act of hope rather than a strong or justified truth claim (Amesbury, 2012).

But there are serious problems with the accounts of belief supplied by these postures. Beliefs are better understood, Polanyi suggests (1958; 1966), as one part of a complex embodied response to real conditions. They are mental commitments to things viewed as true, often inherited, and are embedded within complex clusters of practices that are all needed to make an aspect of reality intelligible. Hence, they are strictly correlative with notions like understanding and knowledge and with traditions. Consequently, they are not intrinsically doubtful and cannot be changed by a mere act of the will. They are convictions about what is real. These corrections take us back much closer to the New Testament.

When the New Testament speaks of belief in what Jesus can do, it notes the existence of doubt but accords it no legitimacy (Mark 9:19 and parallels; Matt 28:17; Luke 12:28//Matt 6:30; 24:11, 25, 38). People approaching Jesus for help ought to recognize him and believe in his capabilities in the same way that people staring at the sunrise ought to believe that daybreak is taking place and light is spreading across the sky. Such belief is appropriate and necessary, while not to believe would be a foolish denial of things that are blatantly obvious.

The distinctive tradition concerning the size of belief, no bigger than a seed but with the capacity to cast a mountain or a mulberry tree into the sea, fits here (Matt 17:20//Mark 11:23//Luke 17:6). These actions are small things for the one who made the mountains and the trees and conquered the oceanic chaos to perform. Conversely, to fail to recognize the activity of God in Jesus is insulting and grievous and even results occasionally in its withdrawal (Mark 6:1–6). The letter to the Hebrews states this most explicitly: “without belief it is impossible to please God because it is necessary for the one coming to him to believe that he exists and that he provides rewards to those seeking him” (11:6, author’s translation). This emphasis in the data is a serious challenge to much modern Western Christianity that has lost confidence in the presence of the miraculous. But if modern readers are beginning to quail, the same data also provide some comfort.

As was noted briefly earlier, Polanyi observes that beliefs must not be isolated from broader traditions. Every explicit belief is cocooned within other beliefs that make it functional but that tend to operate out of conscious purview, tacitly. Grasping the intelligibility of a belief consequently necessitates the explicit articulation of its tacit dimension. In the New Testament the tacit dimension surrounding the appropriateness of belief is not evidence in the sense of many modern expectations (i.e., “empirical”) but is arguably more impressive than this.

As the numerous stories listed earlier invariably suggest, Jesus himself is present, but the Holy Spirit is also frequently involved; and one or both are acting in dramatic and obvious ways. The presence of these actors suggests in turn that divine disclosure or revelation is operative in any context within which Christian belief is expected. Belief is not then an uncertain mental conviction that something might be the case, a conviction lacking obvious evidence, or a leap into the dark. People are not being asked to summon belief in Jesus and his divine activity from within themselves but rather to respond appropriately to the utterly obvious presence of God (so Torrance, 2000; 2001), at which point we should nevertheless accent a further interesting dynamic within these data.

Jesus performs the acts in these stories that would ordinarily be attributable to the God of Israel—healing, feeding, calming, delivering, resurrecting, and even withering a tree. Hence, petitioners come to him as if to God, frequently believing in him, and God acts. Through such acts petitioners learn what God is like, namely, compassionate (Matt 14:14). (This all seems further evidence, incidentally, that the New Testament regards Jesus’s identity in “high” or exalted terms.) But, as a human figure, Jesus also evidences faith in all circumstances consistently, succeeding where others fail. He—and he alone—has faith the size of a mustard seed so that astonishing acts of power do regularly take place for him. It seems then that Jesus stands on both sides of the critical relationship in these data between human belief and the activity of God.

The New Testament is impatient with the phenomenon of doubt concerning Jesus. He is the very presence of God. But the data simultaneously recognize that humanity is sinful, even in the presence of overt divine activity. People frequently doubt—except for the human Jesus. Hence, it is apparent that in Jesus God has provided the perfect human response of belief to God (Torrance, 1981, drawing on Calvin). It is implicit in addition that participation in him will make his unwavering faith available to people who otherwise lack it, at which point acts of power become possible for later evangelists and missionaries despite their intrinsic fallibility (Mark 16:15–18; John 14:12, 14). They are at work in the faithful Jesus and he in them (although often explicitly by way of the Spirit).

It is hard to avoid the impression, moreover, that the main setting for this sort of faith was evangelistic and missional. And the strong associations evidenced by these texts between miraculous activity and Christological confession and belief would have served in ancient wonder-working contexts to define this activity appropriately over against rival powers. Healing and other miraculous saving acts were attributed by many in the context of the New Testament to pagan gods, for example, to Zeus or Asclepius, or to spirits/demons (daimonia; see Kee, 1988). One Jewish criticism of Jesus seems to have been that he performed miracles by drawing on the power of Beelzebub or Satan (Mark 3:22). And this activity could sometimes be purchased or used instrumentally. The New Testament is well aware of these countervailing discourses—see especially Peter’s encounter with Simon in Samaria and Paul’s confrontations with the magician bar-Jesus/Elymas in Paphos, with a mantic slave girl in Philippi, and indirectly with demons and magical papyri in Ephesus (Acts 8:9–24; 13:6–12; 16:16–18; 19:13–20). The emphasis on belief in these data serves to identify Jesus as the supernatural actor who is graciously at work in these acts of power. Hence, they are not the work of demons or of Beelzebub. Neither can they be bought or manipulated. They take place accompanied only by the appropriate confession.

One final detail in these data is worth noting. Christians are supposed to maintain their beliefs about Jesus. Even when intensely pressured to recant, they ought to continue to confess Jesus as Lord, thereby holding to their beliefs about him. This is explicit in the book of Revelation and occasionally elsewhere. Maintaining this stance sometimes required the presence of further types of faith, notably, trust in God, especially for ultimate deliverance, and a steadfast faithfulness to God: “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints – those who hold on to God’s commandments and their belief[s] concerning Jesus” (Rev 14:12, author’s translation; on this and related faith texts in Revelation see Tonstadt, 2006). Here, then, belief is seen as costly and sometimes extremely so. It must endure over time, if necessary under duress; but participation in the faithful witness can undergird any unwavering fidelity here as well (Rev 1:5; 3:14), an observation that leads directly to the New Testament’s second data pool.

Faith in Pauline and Related Comprehensive Faith.

It is vital to appreciate that Paul’s account of faith is ethical and not merely confessional, although he is well aware of the evangelistic location of belief. He notes repeatedly that the apostolic proclamation of the gospel is accompanied by signs and wonders attesting to its truth (Rom 15:18–19; 1 Cor 2:1–5; 2 Cor 12:12; Gal 3:1–5), and this confirms the earlier suspicion that much of the material already discussed belongs in evangelistic settings. But Paul is famous for arguing trenchantly that this same belief somehow involves a Torah-free ethic for any converts from paganism, and this was something new. Paul’s position is important but complex. It proved difficult to grasp both in his own day and subsequently.

“Everything that is not through belief is sin” (Rom 14:23, author’s translation), he says at the end of a discussion of appropriate Christian behavior in a situation characterized by sharp differences over appropriate dietary and temporal routines, which is to say that everything that is “through belief” is righteous activity. He goes on to pray, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in your believing so you overflow with hope through the activity of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13, author’s translation). Hence, “belief” or “believing” for Paul is a more comprehensive notion than confession, although it includes the latter (Rom 10:9–10). It seems to denote an entirely new way of thinking, extending to various aspects of behavior and even to emotions (i.e., joy and peace). An understanding of Paul will be hampered, however, if a strong thought-act or being-act dualism is operative, so I will briefly address this.

Many modern readers tend to assume that thoughts are not acts and belong to a separate category of human life that is rather divorced from the real, that is, the practical, the world of events. A strong separation between theology and ethics can then sometimes flow from this. Certainly to think is not to act, and vice versa, so we frequently speak of “thinking and acting” as if these were fundamentally different. However, this deeply rooted set of assumptions is both odd and inaccurate (Gunton, 2002). Thoughts are acts and must, moreover, possess some ontology. (They are hard to conceive of in strong separation from language, for example, which is embodied.) All thinking is acting and therefore ethical in some way, and all ethics involves thinking.

Once any such unhelpful dichotomies have been abandoned, it is easier to understand Paul’s view of believing. Rather than treating initial or confessional Christian thinking in isolation from other activities, Paul’s account of Christian believing evidently presupposes a holistic situation in terms of an entirely new way of thinking that is related to acting—so I must introduce slightly broader lexical data to understand it. As he puts it, Christians possess a reconstituted mind: “be transformed by the recreation of [your] mind so that you might be able to discern what God’s will is” (Rom 12:2, author’s translation). This statement is immediately expanded by the claim that God has given a particular measure of believing to each person and that they should therefore understand themselves accordingly (vv. 3–8), something involving different activities within the community, whether prophesying, serving, teaching, and so on.

Paul’s prayers elsewhere often revolve around the transformation of understanding as well, asking for the great depth of God’s love and power to be understood, insofar as they can be (see Eph 1:15–23; 3:14–19; Phil 1:9–11; Col 1:9–11; Phlm 4–6). The same dynamic is apparent in some of his key exhortations (see esp. Rom 8:6 in context; Eph 4:1–16, 22–24; Phil 2:1–5). Christian unity is paramount because it should flow from the mutual possession by Christians of the mind of Christ. Over against this new, positive situation, his auditors are to avoid the sinful thinking that characterized their former lives—the old, alienated mind of the flesh (Rom 8:1–13; Eph 4:17–18, 22; Col 1:21). In short, Christian believing for Paul denotes a whole new way of thinking and, hence, a radically new way of living. But this ethical account of Christian believing is not limited to him. It is evident in much of John’s Gospel and in Acts, although these are not related to the Pauline texts in direct ways.

The data of faith in John, which is widespread, encompass a correct response to miracles, which are signs of Jesus’s identity (see esp. John 20:31), but extend beyond this to an ethical understanding as well. In John 6:28 Jesus is asked, “What must we do to work the works of God?” He responds, “This is the work of God—that you believe in that one whom he has sent” (John 6:29, author’s translation). This response looks oddly minimal but is further elucidated by the instructions given at the Last Supper. Those who understand who Jesus is, especially his relationship with the Father, will do even greater things than Jesus himself (John 14:12–14). Moreover, those who believe Jesus—who truly know him—love him and obey his commands (John 14:21–23; 17:25–26). It emerges then that believing in John’s Gospel means an appropriate Christian understanding that should emerge seamlessly from communion with both God and the rest of the community. To understand this location, so to speak, is necessarily to act in a certain way, especially in love, a perspective shared by the Johannine letters (see esp. 1 John 4:1–5:13, 19–20).

Acts is less explicit, but the same position is still evident. Believing is associated not just with miracles but also with release from sins (e.g., Acts 2:38; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18). Occasionally, this is expanded with references to the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38b; 10:44; 11:15–17; 15:8) or an emphasis on holy living (although this is not conventionally Jewish; Acts 13:39; 15:9; 26:18). Thus, these data too look like an echo of Paul’s radical position that was promulgated largely in missionary work among ancient pagans. However, while Acts provides evidence that affirms its legitimacy, notably the arrival of the Spirit, it does not explain its underlying rationale very fully; and John is also somewhat indirect. For a full account of what this comprehensive ethical believing really is one must circle back to Paul.

If belief is ethical in Paul, then it follows that the agency of belief should be found when we grasp the basis of Paul’s ethic; and this was participatory. (This view has a long pedigree in modern Pauline studies; it is usefully summarized by Tannehill, 2007, and developed by Gorman, 2009.)

Paul was convinced that Christians have died and been resurrected in some concrete sense “in Christ” (this being one of his favorite phrases). Christ’s death and resurrection into a new, transcendent reality is one that Christians are linked to and participate in by the work of the Spirit. This process executes the difficulties present within humanity’s previous reality, which Paul narrates in terms of Adam, and establishes a life freed from the powers of sin and death that dominated it. The peace and joy of the new age replace the hostility and turmoil of the old, and people are liberated to act in love and kindness rather than in dissension and hatred. From the point of their belief in the proclamation on, Christians are to recognize and understand that they live in two competing realities (Rom 5:12–21), at which point the importance of belief to Paul’s gospel becomes apparent. (Rom 5–8 articulates all these claims especially clearly; see Campbell, 2012.)

One reality is almost immeasurably superior to the other (Rom 5:15–17), but, somewhat disconcertingly, it cannot be seen (perhaps with rare exceptions; see 2 Cor 12:2–4); it can only be understood or believed to be present (Rom 8:24–25; 2 Cor 5:7). But the very act of understanding it, and then of acting in accordance with its supremely ethical nature, denotes its reality. The new mind and thinking of the Christian, beyond a compulsive hostility to God and to humanity, is consequently a critical part of this present resurrected life. (This new mind, as a fundamentally creative act, is of course a gift of God, from a divine Father, of and through his Son and the Holy Spirit, who all work in concert to effect and to sustain it [2 Cor 4:4].)

In this view of salvation, the possession of any beliefs by Christians, especially concerning Jesus—for example, in the confession “Jesus is Lord”—constitutes evidence of the work of God in them (1 Cor 2:10; 12:3b). Such belief denotes participation in Christ. But believing is not limited to confession, important as that is. Paul’s account of Christian belief is comprehensively ethical. The presence of an entirely new mind—the mind of Christ—enables Christians to respond obediently to God in every respect.

The letter from James indicates especially clearly that Paul’s radical view was contested within the early church. (I suspect James is authentic; however, evidence from Paul alone establishes this; see esp. Gal 2:1–14; also Acts 15:1–29.) Irrespective of its date, a careful reading of James makes a vital contribution. It is important to appreciate, however, that James does not engage with a participatory account of faith.

The letter attacks a nonparticipatory position in which someone appeals to a confessional element—specifically the Shema—to avoid other ethical activities—notably, helping the poor (Jas 2:14–26). Hence, the ethically unimpressive interlocutor in view has isolated certain belief-acts and then privileged them. These two moves have allowed the denial of further appropriate ethical activity. A sign of this inappropriate privileging is the presence of the qualifier “by belief alone” (v. 24), this being the only time that the New Testament uses this phrase.

Paul would not have recognized the interlocutor’s position as a valid account of his own—and neither, presumably, would the authors of John or of Acts. Paul never uses the phrase “by faith alone” (which Luther famously added to Rom 3:28). However, James articulates what might be called an understandable misunderstanding of the Pauline position.

It is not always explicit in Paul’s letters that a new Christian mind has been created by the indwelling Christ and the work of the Spirit so that the isolation of certain acts of believing, here confessional, from other convictions (for example, helping the poor) is deeply inappropriate. The comprehensiveness of Pauline believing is clear once its underlying participatory rationale is grasped; it denotes participation in the mind of Christ. But this participatory element is not always apparent. Although the derivations of, for example, Christian love and obedience from Christ’s love and obedience are overt (see Hooker, 1989), the derivation of Christian believing from Christ’s unswerving mind of faith is seldom explicit (although 2 Cor 4:13 probably presupposes this on closer analysis; see Campbell, 2009b). Arguably, Paul only made key clarifications here, in Galatians, Philippians, and Romans, having become aware of the circulation of James’s particular misunderstanding or of something like it. These clarifications led to the data discussed in New Testament circles under the rubric of the pistis Christou, or “faith of Christ,” debate. That is, considerations are gathering again in the modern period to suggest that various series of pist-words in these letters should be construed as “through the believing of Jesus Christ, leading to [y/our] believing,” or something similar, thereby making Jesus’s prior believing and agency within Christian belief clear (see Rom 3:22, 26, resuming 1:17; and Gal 2:20; 3:22; possibly also Phil 3:9; and to a lesser extent Gal 2:15–16; the debate was catalyzed in particular by Hays, 2002). So the account of believing that concerns James, whatever its precise origin, is not an adequate account of Christian believing as found in Paul, John, or Acts. However, it is vital to appreciate that James’s stated concern is nevertheless fair.

Any account of Christian believing that isolates and privileges it over against other appropriate ethical activity such as Jesus’s command to love one’s neighbor must be repudiated. James’s protest ought to be read then, at the least, as an authoritative canonical correction to a false reading of faith in Paul. Anyone offended by James’s criticisms of faith has not understood Paul—or John, or key parts of Acts. James is a legitimate warning concerning a destructive misappropriation of Paul. And clearly, many subsequent interpreters of Paul, especially Protestants, have failed to heed it.

Unfortunately, such impoverished accounts are widespread especially in the form of the “Lutheran” reading of Paul, as Stendahl called it (1963; 1976). This is not an especially nuanced account of either Luther or subsequent Lutheranism, but it is common in modern Pauline interpretation. And its oversimplifications should be recognized and firmly resisted. This construal capitulates to modern conditional and contractual proclivities when it suggests that faith is a condition for entry into the church rather than evidence that God is already at work (Torrance, 1970). It presupposes a God of justice congenial to modern liberalism and thereby occludes divine initiative and compassion (see Rom 5:6, 8) and problematizes ethics. It also necessarily caricatures Judaism, locating it prior to faith in an inherently negative and self-destructive form (a problem exposed definitively by Sanders, 1977). But there is no explicit evidence that Paul has to be construed in this fashion (at least arguably; see Campbell, 2009a). It is better to view Paul’s account of faith as fundamentally participatory and ultimately Trinitarian.

One final comment is in order. Although in Paul belief is primarily a gift mediated by Christ and the Spirit, it is also a task and hence something of a journey (as it is in the Johannine material). This observation places the conundrum of Christian moral progress firmly in view, although a full discussion of this would lead us too far afield. It must suffice to say that Paul clearly recognizes, within a basic framework of giftedness and divine benefaction, that habituation into appropriate ongoing believing and wider obedience is both possible and necessary. Every letter that Paul wrote indicates that he was deeply committed to shaping the minds of his converts more accurately and helpfully; their believing needed constant exhortation. On the one hand, then, much that his letters assert must be denied if his ethic is reduced to such habituation. On the other hand, their existence affirms this process in some fashion. It is as if Christians must learn to inhabit fully the new reality that they have been placed within—and some of its contours were doubtless unfamiliar. Concomitantly, the executed reality of Adam seems to rise incessantly from its grave to draw Christians back into destructive but familiar patterns of sinful thinking. These patterns still need to be identified and, in effect, unlearned. Faith is then, for Paul (and John), both a gift and a journey (Miller, 2014; the view is introduced by Harrington and Keenan, 2009). The remaining notions of faith in the Bible can be treated more briefly.

The Faith in the New Testament.

If faith in the sense of believing encompasses all appropriate Christian thinking and related acting, then it becomes necessary at some point to separate out the absolutely critical commitments that all Christians need to agree on from those contextualized beliefs that are not universally binding. The identity of Jesus was so central to early Christianity, some propositional consensus was mandatory if different Christians were to move forward together in any meaningful way, purporting to worship and serve the same Lord. (Beliefs could become so divergent that a different person was in view.) Hence, one finds an early creedal tradition in the New Testament denoted by faith terminology. Christians were to have faith in the Faith. Certain things simply had to be affirmed. The Pastorals, probably written in the second century, evidence this usage that went on to develop through the Rule of Faith into the creeds (see, most probably, 1 Tim 1:19; 3:9; and 6:21, and, hence, 1 Tim 5:8; 6:10, 12; 2 Tim 2:18; 3:8; 4:7; and perhaps Titus 1:13 and 2:2). It might be detectable in other parts of the New Testament as well (Acts 16:5; Rev 14:12, although this notion is often hard to demonstrate definitively against other possible readings).

Faith in the Old Testament.

Once it has been grasped that faith in the New Testament usually denotes believing that God is at work through and within Jesus, a knowledge mediated by the Holy Spirit and effected in participatory terms and quickly developed ethically, it can be seen in addition that faith is both nowhere and everywhere in earlier Judaism and the Old Testament. Faith language is not often used to speak of appropriate confession. In the Old Testament it is used primarily to denote the virtues of trustworthiness, loyalty, and steadfastness, which are widespread. This usage is not absent from the New Testament, but it is not prominent. Earlier Jewish sources, canonical or otherwise, also understandably fail to evidence the particular belief that the coming Jesus of Nazareth is the very presence of God. These configurations in the data have sometimes puzzled scholars seeking the antecedents of New Testament faith in the Old Testament, resulting in some ingenious hypotheses and puzzled disclaimers (Bultmann and Weiser, 1961; Lührmann, 1992).

But the earlier sources supply bountiful evidence of the importance of convictions about the God of Israel—of (correct) beliefs. Indeed, this observation is largely self-evident. The Torah evidences numerous critical confessional sections (see Schmidt, 1983). The Decalogue is prefaced and then begins with particular beliefs about God—that he led Israel out of Egypt, is God alone, is not to be represented by an image or blasphemed, and is a jealous divinity demanding absolute loyalty (Exod 20:1–7; Deut 5:6–11). (The ground of believing in revelation is directly implicit here as well.) The Shema is a recitation of the core beliefs that God is the Lord and is one (Deut 6:4–5). Similarly when prophets challenged the people to be loyal to Yahweh, critical beliefs about the nature of Yahweh and their implications were present (1 Kgs 18:21, 36, 39; Isa 1). Israel clearly had to understand what God was like and remain loyal to those convictions as a sine qua non of an effective and coherent relationship with God, even if this activity was not denoted with pist-terms or their Semitic equivalents.

Obviously, the specifics of Old Testament beliefs were nuanced. While the details of these beliefs are much debated, it must suffice to observe here that New Testament scholars increasingly suggest that monotheism was an important belief inherited by the New Testament from Judaism (see interalia 1 Cor 8:6; Bauckham, 2008; Hurtado, 2003). The conviction that God is one supplied a critical part of the New Testament’s theological grammar, although its earlier occurrences did not necessarily use faith markers to denote this notion. (As Tilling [2012] observes, this conviction was often expressed narratively.) So here I end as I began—with a warning about the etymological fallacy. The lexicography of belief is seldom present in Judaism antecedent to the New Testament, fidelity being, by way of contrast, much more prominent. But beliefs about God in the notional sense are omnipresent. These contribute directly to, although unsurprisingly they are also distinctively developed by, faith language in the New Testament (Rowe, 2000).

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