On the words and concepts ‘faith’, ‘faithfulness’, ‘believe’ and ‘believing’, in the Bible.
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In the world of religion, faith is important. But what does the word “faith” mean? What is true faith, or biblical faith, or “the right way to believe”? There are many kinds of claims regarding that, but the important question is this: What do the Scriptures say about faith and faithfulness?
This article takes a closer look such words and concepts as “faith”, “faithfulness”, “believe” and “believing”, in the Bible in general and especially in the New Testament. It also considers what those things meant in the saints’ daily lives.
(“Saints”: Here, that word refers to those people who received the Holy Spirit in the first century.)
The saints’ faith had very little to do with how the word “faith” is used in the religious language of our day. Their faith did not consist of “believing in God”. For them, it was a matter of putting their trust in God and his son Jesus and relying on them, and being their faithful servants. That is the matter of faith, “in a nutshell”. But of course, there is much more to it, so, read on.
A note: This study contains a number of translation-related comments. If you have been subjected to dogmas which claim that some particular bible-version is “without error”, make sure to read the article hs03.htm.
The etymology of the word “faith” is that it comes via the Old French feid from the Latin noun fides which was used in many different meanings, in a two-fold way, such as “trust” and “trustworthiness”, “holding someone to be credible” and “being credible”. The related verb fido meant “to trust”, “to confide”, “to put confidence in”, “to rely upon”. (The relevant words in the Greek text of the New Testament will be discussed later in this study.)
Today, the English word “faith” is used in a different way. It has come to mean only “belief” and “believing”, and then, even the meaning of those words has changed, over the centuries.
Regarding the word “believe” – its root is not known. Some say that it came from “the proto-Germanic ga-laubjan, ‘to hold dear’, ‘to love’”, but the so-called “proto-Germanic” is an in later times “re-constructed” hypothetical language which may have very little to do with reality. What is known, is that in Old English, “believe” was spelled belyfan, and earlier geleafa, gelefa or gelyfan, but it is not known with certainty what those words exactly meant in old times.
Where English translations of the NT have “faithful”, the Greek text mostly has pistos which indeed meant “faithful” (trustworthy, reliable, true).
What in English translations of the New Testament appears as “faith”, is in the Greek text for the most part pistis. That word had “two sides”. It could refer to “trustworthiness”, “faithfulness”, “honesty”, but it was also used in the meaning “trust in others”, “persuasion of a thing”, “confidence”, “assurance”.
In the passages where many English bible-versions use the verb “to believe”, the Greek NT text has for the most part pisteuô. In old Greek, that verb meant such things as “to trust” and “to rely on”, and also, “to entrust something to another” and “to be entrusted with something”.
(A note: Those who try to look into the meaning of the Greek text of the NT by the help of so-called “biblical” Greek lexicons, should know that they are limited and biased and often severely misleading. The article hs01.htm has some notes on this.)
In short, it can be said that the Greek words in question had to do with trusting someone or being trustworthy, relying on someone or being reliable, being faithful or considering someone else to be faithful, and being genuine and true or considering something or someone to be genuine and true.
So, the modern-day use and meaning of the English word and concept “faith” is quite different from what the relevant words in the Greek NT text meant, in the apostles’ day.
Appendix 1 has more on the most common “faith”-related words in the Greek text of the New Testament – the adjectives pistos, pistikos, oligopistos and apistos, the nouns pistis and apistia, and the verbs pistoô, pisteuô and apisteô.
In the religious language of our day, the word “faith” means something like “believing in God”, that is, “believing that God exists”. But, the Greek text of the NT shows that for the saints, “faith” was something different.
A note: The misleading wording “believing that he is” which appears in Hebrews 11:6 in some bible-versions, will be considered a bit later.
Regarding the saints’ “faith” (Greek pistis) – on the one hand, it meant that they put their trust in God (in God the Father and his son Jesus), being assured that God is not a liar but does what he has promised. And, on the other hand, those saints’ “faith” (pistis) meant that they themselves were faithful, dependable and trustworthy servants of God and his son Jesus, and that they acted accordingly, being loyal to them.
The saints’ faith (their faithfulness to the Father and Jesus, and the fact that they put their trust in them) also meant that they were prepared to pay the price that following Jesus might require. Including, giving their lives, if and when it came to that.
The patriarch Abraham is often mentioned as an example of a “man of faith”. Some even call him “the father of the faithful”.
Now, Abraham’s faith meant that when the Lord promised certain things to him, he put his trust in the Lord and was confident that the Lord indeed would live up to his promises. And also: Abraham was a faithful and obedient servant of the Lord, and did what the Lord told him to do.
Regarding Abraham’s grandson Jacob – when he was talking to his sons about what would happen after his own death, he made this remark, in the midst of his sayings:
Genesis 49:18 I have waited for your salvation, O Lord. (AKJV)
“Waited”? Did Jacob mean that he had waited (expected) to receive that salvation, but that he now realised that he would not receive it? No. He still looked forward to that salvation, expecting it and knowing that it would be coming. Even today, the meaning of the word “wait” is “to remain stationary in readiness or expectation”, “to look forward expectantly”. Jacob did that. He put his trust in the Lord and was assured that the salvation which had been promised to him, would indeed come. That was faith – trust.
Consider Abraham who was called faithful. Was it a “feeling of faith” that he had? No. It was like this: For instance when the Lord told Abraham to get out of Ur and move elsewhere, Abraham did what he was told to do. In other words, he obeyed. We read:
Hebrews 11:8 By faith, Abraham, when called to go out into a place which he should afterward receive as an inheritance, obeyed, and went out, not knowing whither he was going. (LO, highlighting added)
Again, in the Greek text of the NT, the word for “faith” was the noun pistis which had a two-fold meaning. Both sides of pistis are present in the above-quoted verse: “Faith”, that is, putting one’s trust in the Lord and relying on him, and also faithfulness, that is, being the Lord’s faithful and reliable servant. Those things are not separable; they belong together.
Later, Abraham was tried more severely. Was it a “feeling” that was counted as righteousness for him, at that time? No, but action. Abraham did what the Lord told him to do. When God tested Abraham, he was even prepared to give his son Isaac to death. (But, when the Lord saw that Abraham would obey him, he had an angel tell him not to harm the boy.)
Abraham was a faithful servant of the Lord. He obeyed, and did what the Lord told him to do. That is what even this passage refers to:
James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? (LO)
As you can see, the meaning of the word “works” in that verse is that Abraham’s faith (his trust in the Lord, and his faithfulness towards the Lord) led to that he did what the Lord told him to do.
Then we have this passage:
Romans 4:3 For what says the scripture? “And Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” (LO)
Romans 4:3 But what does it say in the holy Writings? And Abraham had faith in God, and it was put to his account as righteousness. (BBE)
Paul was citing the book of Genesis, which records that Abraham “had faith in the Lord, and it was put to his account as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6, BBE).
“Had faith in the Lord” – Abraham held the Lord to be credible, and so, he trusted that the Lord would do what he had promised. – This was when the Lord met Abraham in person, and told him that he would have many descendants. And again, we must not forget that Abraham’s faith had also the “do” part, so that when the Lord told him to do something, he did that.
King David relied on the Lord, put his trust in him, and obeyed him. (David failed at times, but he repented and asked for God’s mercy.) Here is an English translation of a part of a song which David wrote:
Psalms 25:2 O my God, I trust in You; do not let me be ashamed; let not my enemies triumph over me. 3 Yea, let none who wait upon You be ashamed; let them be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause. 4 Make me know Your ways, O Jehovah; teach me Your paths. 5 Lead me in Your truth, and teach me; for You are the God of my salvation; upon You do I wait all day long. (VW06)
Verse 2, “I trust in you”. Putting one’s trust in the Lord is the same as faith. Regarding the word “wait” (Hebrew qavah) in verse 5 – even that meant that David put his trust in the Lord. In another psalm, he wrote:
Psalms 39:7 And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You. (VW06)
That was a hope for the future. David knew that the Lord would keep his promises, and that in times of need the Lord could help those who put their trust in him.
David wrote much about his enemies, in the songs (psalms) that he composed. Several times, evil men had created snares for him, and caused him to fall. But the Lord delivered David even from those things, because he put his trust in the Lord, served him and looked up to him for salvation; a future salvation, with everlasting life. David knew about those things, and so did Abraham and Jacob and many others.
The faithful people of old times knew that the Lord is not a liar. They put their trust in him, and they served him faithfully. Admitting that they were only strangers and wanderers here on Earth, they acknowledged that they were looking for something else, something better. We read:
Hebrews 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (NKJV)
(The articles gh04.htm and hz10.htm have some notes on the Promises and the Land and City which those faithful people looked forward to, putting their trust in the Lord.)
Many bible-versions have in Hebrews 11:6 such wordings as “must believe that he is” or “must believe that he exists”. Here is one of them:
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (NRSV)
Is that a correct translation? Let us consider this matter.
Here is the Byzantine Greek wording, transcribed into the English alphabet, with phrase translations:
Hebrews 11:6 chôris de pisteôs (but without faithfulness) adunaton euarestêsai ([it is] not possible to please [God]) pisteusai gar dei (for it behooves to be faithful) ton proserchomenon tô Theô (him who approaches God) hoti estin (because He is [faithful]) kai tois ekzêtousin auton (and for those who seek Him) misthapodotês ginetai (a rewarder [He] becomes)
The third word in the Greek text of that verse is pistis, in the form pisteôs. Again, both that Greek word as well as the Latin fides, could mean both “faithful” (for instance, being the Lord’s faithful servant) as well as “faith” (trusting, relying on someone). The same goes for the related Greek verb pisteuô.
But, how should those words be compiled into a modern-day English sentence? Which words belong together, and where should one place commas and periods? Here is a suggested interpretation of that passage:
Hebrews 11:6 But it is not possible to please [God] without faithfulness, for he who approaches God must be faithful, because He is [faithful], and will reward those who seek him. (BPT)
It appears that the apostle was telling those Jewish saints to be faithful towards God, since God certainly was faithful towards them.
(A note: Here, it is assume that it was the apostle Paul who wrote that letter to those Jewish saints.)
Many bible-versions have in Hebrews 10 wordings that have caused people to think that verse 23 refers to some “creed” or “statement of faith”, and that verse 25 refers to “going to church”.
But, those who carefully read and analyse the whole chapter, will see that it is about the two covenants, old and new. This matter as a whole is more clear in the Greek text, but even a careful comparison of a number of English translations might help an open-eyed person to see the real context. Appendix 2 has more on Hebrews 10:23, but here are some shorter notes.
In the Greek text of verse 23, we find the word homologia. Some have translated it as “confession” or “profession”, but the apostle Paul was not talking about churches or their “confessions of faith”. – It is obvious that in that verse, the old Greek noun homologia is used its literal meaning, “an agreement”, “a contract”. In other words: Paul was reminding those Jewish saints about their betrothal to Jesus. He told them to faithfully hold fast to their part in that agreement (that betrothal, which was a binding contract regarding a marriage). Appendix 3 has more on the word homologia. Regarding verse 25, see below.
In Hebrews 10:25, many bible-translations contain wordings which cause people to think that that verse refers to “going to church”. But again, Paul was not talking about churches. The relevant word in the Greek text is episunagôgê which primarily referred to “gathering” and “carrying away”. There are only NT passages that contain the word episunagôgê – Hebrews 10:25 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1. They both refer to the day and time when those saints were gathered up (by angels) and carried away and taken up to Jesus who then took them to the Wedding.
In Hebrews 10:38, many bible-versions have the wording “the just shall live by faith”, or something similar. But, what was the apostle really saying? Was it a matter of merely “believing” or “trusting”, or was it also a matter of being a faithful and trustworthy servant of God? And also: In that same verse we find a warning that those who “drew back” would have problems – what did that mean?
Again, many bible-versions have in that verse such wordings as “the just shall live by faith”, but some add the note that the translation could also be “faithfulness”.
“Just” and “faith” – in the Greek text, the corresponding words are dikaios and pistis (pisteôs). For instance KJV1769 translates the adjective dikaios mostly as “righteous” or “just”. And, as was noted in the first part of this study, the noun pistis had also the meaning “faithfulness” (being trustworthy, dependable), and not only “faith” (“trust”).
Hebrews 10:38 And the righteous shall live by faithfulness, but if he draws back, my soul has no delight in him. (BPT)
(The apostle was citing Habakkuk 2; there is more on this a bit later.)
So, Hebrews 10:38 says that the righteous shall live, by faithfulness. The words dikaios and dikaiosunê, “righteous” and “righteousness” occur several times in the epistle to the Hebrews, just as in the other Epistles.
Let us now consider a part of the context. First, verse 36:
Hebrews 10:36 For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise. (AKJV)
Another translation, in more modern language:
Hebrews 10:36 For you must persevere in doing the will of God, that you may obtain the promised reward. (LO, highlighting added)
The point, regarding the phrase “the just shall live by faith” which many translations have in verse 38: It was not a matter of having some vague feeling of “belief” or “faith”. The apostle Paul reminded the Jewish saints whom he was writing to, that they had to be faithful in serving God and continue doing his will, living righteous lives.
In verse 38, the words “if he draws back” obviously refer to people who were not faithful to the Lord and who thus in fact turned their backs on him. In the end, their actions would lead to the loss of the promised reward (salvation, and more).
Consider the faithful people of old of Hebrews 11 – was it “belief”, a “feeling”, that counted? No. Regarding Enoch who is mentioned in that chapter – was it that he had the right kind of “feeling in his heart”? No. The Bible tells us that Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5:22-24). That was action, righteousness – continually doing God’s will. What about Noah? Was he saved from a death in the Flood by “believing that God exists”, by having a “feeling of faith”, or something like that? No, of course not. Noah acted: He obeyed the Lord and did what he had told him to do – year after year, he kept on building an enormous barge, until it was finished. That – the fact that he did what the Lord had told him to do – saved Noah and his family and a lot of animals.
Back to Hebrews 10:38, with its context which shows that Paul was talking about the need to be faithful to God and to live a just, righteous life. Let us again take a look at that passage. Paul was citing Habakkuk 2:3-4. Below, the cited portions are put in quotes.
Hebrews 10:36 For you must have patience, so that, after you have done the will of God, you may receive the Promise. 37 For yet a little while, and he who is coming will come, “and will not delay”, 38 and “the righteous shall live by faithfulness”, but “if he draws back, my soul has no delight in him”. (BPT)
The Greek text of Hebrews 10:38 contains the same wording as that of the LXX in Habakkuk 2:4, quoted in two parts. (Ho de dikaios ek pisteôs zêsetai, “but the just shall live by faithfulness”, and ean huposteilêtai ouk eudokei hê psuchê mou en autô, “if he draws back, my soul has no delight in him”.)
A note: The different uses and meanings of the Greek word pistis which many translate as “faith”, are discussed elsewhere in this study (see even appendix 1).
In James’ epistle, we find these verses:
James 2:20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? […] 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (NKJV)
James 2:20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? […] 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. (NLT04)
The context makes it clear that James was talking about good works, and not about “works of the law”. We read:
James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (NKJV)
So, true faith (faithfulness towards God) goes hand in hand with love, including good works. Love towards the Lord, and love towards one’s “neighbours” (other humans). Again, James was talking about good works, and not about “works of the Law”. Well, in the context he did mention a “law” (rule, principle) – the “royal law”, verse 8:
James 2:8 If you really carry out the royal law prescribed in Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. (HCSB)
Again, true faith includes love towards others, which in its turn leads to good works.
The articles gh11.htm, hh12.htm and im07.htm look at certain parts of the matter of love towards other human beings. The article mg08.htm studies the matter of righteousness (right-ways-ness), including the clear connection between righteousness and good works.
Apparently, some have thought James 1:6-8 to mean that one must “one must not doubt” when one prays – that one must have a “feeling of faith”. But, let us take a closer look at that passage, along with some others.
James 1:6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. 8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. (AKJV, comments added)
Verse 6: “Wavering” is diakrinomenos (diakrinô) in the Greek text. Verse 8, “double minded” – the Greek text has dipsuchos.
In those old Greek words, the prefixes dia- and di- mean “two”. In this case, both words refer to having two (different) views or opinions, at the same time.
In that letter, James mentioned the prophet Elijah (James 5:17-18). In Elijah’s day, the ancient Israelites “wavered”. They were double-minded. They put their trust in the idol Baal, but at the same time, they “served” even the Lord. We read:
1 Kings 18:21 Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent. (NLT04, highlighting added)
Those people were “wavering”, double-minded. In short, they “sat on the fence” – they served Baal, but at the same time they paid some respect even to the Lord. In other words: They were not single-heartedly committed to the Lord.
In the Greek NT text, the only other occurrence of the word dipsuchos (besides James 1:8 which was quoted above), is found in that same letter.
James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded [dipsuchos]. 9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (AKJV, comment added)
As James 4:7-8 shows, one must choose sides. (The same as in 1 Kings 18:21, see above.) James told those whom he was writing to, that they had to choose. They were to resist the Devil, and draw close to God.
It is obvious that in the Greek text of the earlier quoted James 1:6, the phrase medên diakrinomenos refers to “being undecided”. And, it appears that the word pistis in that same verse refers to “faithfulness”. – The saints had to choose; they could not “sit on the fence” and serve two masters. They had to be faithful to the Lord. Only then could they count on their requests to God being heard (James 1:7).
Consider even Matthew 6:24, “no man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other”.
A note: In Acts 10:20 and 15:9, the word diakrinô is used in a different meaning, but still, in a way, in connection with the matter of faith. There is more on this, in appendix 4.
Also Matthew 9:22 and 29 will be considered here, but let us first read Matthew 8:5-13 which shows that even a Roman military commander was helped, when he put his trust in Jesus:
Matthew 8:5 And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came to him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 And saying, Lord, my servant lies at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7 And Jesus said to him, I will come and heal him. 8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it. 10 When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, Truly I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 11 And I say to you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13 And Jesus said to the centurion, Go your way; and as you have believed, so be it done to you. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (AKJV)
Verse 13, “as you have believed” – did that mean, “according to the amount of your faith”, as some would say in our day? Perhaps not. Rather, it seems that Jesus was saying that that man would be helped, since he had put his trust in Jesus.
In the next chapter, AKJV has the wording “your faith has made you whole”.
Matthew 9:21 For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. 22 But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; your faith has made you whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. (AKJV)
“Your faith has made you whole” – let us consider this. Was that woman healed by her own “faith”? No, it was Jesus who healed her. It was because she put her trust in Jesus, that she was helped and healed by his power.
More, in regard to the phrase “according to your faith”.
Matthew 9:28 And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus said to them, Believe you that I am able to do this? They said to him, Yes, Lord. 29 Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it to you. (AKJV)
Concerning Jesus’ question “do you believe”, verse 28: The Greek text has the verb pisteuô which primarily meant “to think to be true”, “to be persuaded of”, “to credit”, “to place confidence in”. So, was Jesus asking those blind people, “Do you have faith in me?” – or, was he saying, “Do you trust that I can do this”? The latter, obviously. (But, of course, even the former wording is true, if understood correctly.)
Those blind men trusted that Jesus could heal them. It was right for them to put their trust in Jesus – they received sight to their eyes. That had nothing to do with “religious faith” of the kind that many people talk about today.
Let us consider the occasion when the apostle Peter, trusting in Jesus’ power, first walked on water, but then saw the waves and was not sure whether he was to trust in Jesus’ power or that of the waves.
Matthew 14:28 Peter answering, said to him, If it be you, Master, bid me to come to you on the water. 29 Jesus said, Come. Then Peter getting out of the bark, walked on the water toward Jesus. (LO)
As you can see, Peter actually walked on water. That was made possible for him, because he had put his trust in Jesus. But, then he looked at the wind and the waves, and began wavering between two opinions.
Matthew 14:30 But finding the wind boisterous, he was frightened; and beginning to sink, cried, Master, save me. 31 Jesus instantly stretching out his hand, caught him; and said to him, Distrustful man, wherefore did you doubt? (LO)
Another translation of verse 31:
Matthew 14:31 And immediately Jesus, having stretched forth the hand, laid hold of him, and saith to him, ‘Little faith! for what didst thou waver?’ (YLT)
“Waver” – the Greek text has distazô (from dis, “two”). Just as the above-quoted YLT renders it, distazô was about “wavering” between two opinions. Point: Jesus’ disciples were to put their full trust in him. (And then, of course, that also meant that they had to be totally dedicated to him, being his faithful, dependable and trustworthy servants.)
Matthew 18:6 But whoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (AKJV)
Consider that translation, “these little ones which believe in me”. Was the meaning, “those who believe in Jesus”, the way that expression is used today? Or, was Jesus talking about people who put their trust in him and were committed to him? Obviously, the latter. An analogy: A little child does not “believe in” the existence of his mother and father. He knows they are there. But, a child puts his trust in his parents, and is committed to them. (Read the surrounding verses. Jesus used a child as an example, in that context.)
Mark 5:21 And when Jesus was passed over again by ship to the other side, much people gathered to him: and he was near to the sea. 22 And, behold, there comes one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet, 23 And sought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lies at the point of death: I pray you, come and lay your hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live. […] 35 While he yet spoke, there came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house certain which said, Your daughter is dead: why trouble you the Master any further? 36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he said to the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe. (AKJV)
“Believe”? Jairus was a Jew. What would such concepts as “faith” and “believing”, as they are used and understood today, have meant to a Jew of Jesus’ times? The answer: Most probably nothing. NLT96 has a clearer translation of verse 36:
Mark 5:36 But Jesus ignored their comments and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just trust me.” (NLT96)
Then there is this passage:
Mark 6:1 And he went out from there, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow[ed] him. 2 And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From where has this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given to him, that even such mighty works are worked by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. 4 But Jesus, said to them, A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. 5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands on a few sick folk, and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching. (AKJV)
Verse 6 – “unbelief”. Some bible-versions even make that to “lack of faith”. But, if one tried to apply such a concept to the context of the Jewish society of those days, one would have problems. So, what does verse 6 really mean? The Greek text has apistia. How should that word be interpreted and translated, in this case?
The old Greek noun apistia had several different meanings. “Distrust” was among them, of course. Also, if one had apistia pros heauton, then one suffered of lack of self-confidence (lack of trust in oneself). But, there is more to this. The Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell and Scott includes “discrediting” among the different ways to translate the word apistia.
In the case of Mark 6:6, the word apistia obviously refers to the fact that the people of Jesus’ own home area discredited Jesus. They rejected him as “that craftsman, Miriam’s son”. Apparently they felt, “he cannot be anything special”, or, “he cannot be the Anointed” (the Messiah).
So, “lack of faith” was not the problem. The problem was that those people discredited and rejected Jesus, who actually was the Messias.
In the first part of this article, it was noted that the saints’ faith did not consist of having a “feeling of faith” or “believing that God exists”. Instead, their “faith” consisted of that they put their trust in God the Father in Heaven and his son Jesus. They were convinced (they trusted) that God and his son Jesus would fulfil their promises. And, there was also another part to that matter: They were faithful, trustworthy and obedient servants of God.
But, where did that all take those saints? For, we know that after Jesus gave his life on the cross, things went bad for his disciples. During the following years, many of them were persecuted and even imprisoned, and some of them were killed. So, exactly what was there for them to look forward to, in faith?
Earlier, it was noted that in Hebrews 11, which some have called “the faith chapter”, it is reasonable to assume that the Greek text of verse 6 should be interpreted this way:
Hebrews 11:6 But it is not possible to please God without faithfulness, for he who approaches God must be faithful, because He is faithful, and will reward those who seek him. (BPT)
So, there was a reward for the faithful ones. This had to do with the Promises connected to the New Covenant (the better promises of Hebrews 8:6). The apostle Paul wrote to the Jewish saints, about those who
“inherit the promises through faith and perseverance” (Hebrews 6:11, HCSB).
And, what was that reward, and those promises? The Bible does not spell this out in a detailed manner, but a closer study of the Scriptures shows that among other things, the Promises included a Land in Heaven. The one which is mentioned for instance in this passage:
Hebrews 11:16 But they now aspire to a better land—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (HCSB)
Keeping this in mind, let us consider the occasion when Jesus was about to be killed. He said to his disciples:
John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God: trust in me also. (WEY, highlighting added)
(A note: Some translations have “you believe in God, believe also in me”, but as you can see, that was not a matter of those disciples “believing that Jesus exists”. They knew that he existed; he was right there with them, at the table.)
And, what was that trust all about? Trust – regarding what? Well, let us read the two following verses.
John 14:2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. (HCSB)
When Jesus spoke those words, he was about to be captured and then killed. But, he had told his disciples that that would not be the end of the story. He had told them that he would be resurrected, and here he told them that he would then go to Heaven, and that he would prepare a place for them there, and that after that, he would come back and take them there. To Heaven. That is where the saints’ faith took them.
(There was more to the Promises and the reward, but already this was truly much.)
The article gh04.htm studies what the Scriptures say about the saints and Heaven. The article hz10.htm studies a related matter.
See also the “additional reading” section, after the appendixes below.
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Here are some of the relevant words in the Greek text of the New Testament:
Examples of other, similar words that were used in old Greek but which do not appear in the New Testament: The verb antipisteuô, “to trust in return”; the adjective autopistos, “credible in itself”; the adjective axiopistos, “trustworthy”, the verb duspisteô, “to mistrust”.
A note: Many bible-versions translate several different Greek words as “believe”. Thus, when the NT part of for instance KJV1769 has “believe” or “believing”, the Greek text can have, not only pisteuô, apisteô, pistis, pistos or apistos but also such words as plêrophoreô (in the meaning “to be fully assured”), peithô (in the meaning “to be persuaded”) and apeitheô (“not allowing oneself to be persuaded”).
In short: The most relevant Greek words in this connection had to do with trusting someone or being trustworthy, relying on someone or being reliable, being faithful or considering someone else to be faithful, and being genuine and true or considering something or someone to be genuine and true.
A note, concerning the old Greek words mentioned here and elsewhere in this article – it is important to realise that “biblical” Greek lexicons are limited, biased and often even severely misleading. If you can read Greek letters, use instead the Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, or the more extensive Greek-English Lexicon by the same authors. And again, if you have been subjected to dogmas which claim that some particular bible-version is “without error”, make sure to read the article hs03.htm.
In many translations, several things in Hebrews 10 have become severely distorted. Some preachers have then used those translations, for making people think that they must put their faith in the preacher’s church, and come to its “worship-services” each Sunday (or Saturday, in some cases).
But, if one carefully studies and considers that whole chapter, one will see that the apostle was discussing the New Covenant, versus the Old Covenant. This is more clear in the Greek text, but even a careful comparison of a number of different English translations might help one to see this. Again, the context in Hebrews 10 is the New Covenant, and in connection with that, the fact that the saints whom the apostle wrote to, were a part of Jesus’ Bride. They had been betrothed to Jesus, and so, they had to be faithful to Jesus.
Keeping this in mind, let us now take a closer look at Hebrews 10:23.
Many “traditional” translations of that verse talk about “confession of hope” or “profession of faith” – here is one of them:
Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised) (AKJV)
“Profession of faith” – that wording might cause a casual reader to think of a creed or “statement of faith”, created by some church. But, the apostle was not talking about churches or their creeds. Again, the context was the New Covenant, and in connection with it, the saints’ betrothal to Jesus. That meant that they had to remain faithful to Jesus. What the above-quoted translation makes into “profession”, is in the Greek text homologia. In old Greek, the primary meaning of the noun homologia was “agreement”, “compact”, “contract”. (There is more on this, in appendix 3, below). In the case of Hebrews 10:23, the word homologia refers to those saints’ betrothal to Jesus. They had to hold fast to that contract, “without wavering” – that is, they had to remain faithful to Jesus.
Below, you will find another translation of Hebrews 10:23, based on the Greek text, including some of the context. Those who are familiar with the Old Testament, can see that the apostle was making an analogy, between the events around the making of the Old Covenant at Mount Sinai, and the situation of the saints whom he was writing to, in connection with the New Covenant.
Hebrews 10:22 let us then draw near, with a true heart, in total faithfulness, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 We should hold fast to [our part in] the agreement, a in an assured expectation, b because, the one who gave [us] the promise is faithful. 24 And we should keep an eye on one another, provoking unto love and to good works; 25 not turning our back on our [coming] gathering c (as some do), but admonishing one another: And so much the more, as you see That Day d approaching. (BPT)
Verse 22, “draw near” – when the Old Covenant was made, the Israelites had drawn near Mount Sinai. Here, the apostle made an analogy. He spoke about the formal making of the New Covenant. Compare this with Hebrews 12:18-26 where we find a similar analogy, including a note on the heavenly mountain which those saints “drew near”. (The article gh04.htm has more on Hebrews 12:18-26.)
There are more details on this translation, further down, but first a few notes on some of the Greek words in question.
a Verse 23, “agreement”: The Greek text has homologia. It did not mean “confession” or “profession” as some have it. Here, the noun homologia refers to “an agreement”, “a contract” – which is to say, the saints’ betrothal to Jesus. (Again, appendix 3 has more on the word homologia.)
(A note: In the above-quoted passage, the words “us”, “our” and “we” do not refer to people of our day. They refer to the saints, those people who received the Holy Spirit in the first century. For more on this, see the article hg02.htm.)
b Verse 23, “expectation”: The Greek text has elpis which meant “hope”, “expectation” (not “faith” as some have it).
c Verse 25, “gathering”: The word in the Greek text is episunagôgê which primarily referred to “gathering up” or “carrying away”. This word occurs in only two NT passages, here and in 2 Thessalonians 2:1. Both passages refer to the day when the saints were to be gathered and taken up to Jesus, who then took them to the Wedding. See also the next note.
d Verse 25, “that day”, Greek tên hêmeran: The day when those saints were to be gathered up to Jesus, the same day and event which is mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 where it is called he hêmera tou Christou, “the Day of the Anointed”. Read on:
More on the word elpis in the Greek text of Hebrews 10:23: It referred to “expectation”. The elpis which the saints were to have, meant that they were to look forward to (and be eagerly awaiting) “That Day” (Hebrews 10:25; in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 called “the Day of the Anointed”) – that is, the Day when Jesus was to come for them and take them to the Wedding.
Clarification: The word elpis occurs around 50 times in the Greek text of the New Testament. In some bible-versions, elpis is always rendered as “hope”, except for Hebrews 10:23 where the translators have made it to “faith”. But, elpis did not mean “faith”, and even the translation “hope” can be slightly misleading. The old Greek noun elpis referred to expectation or anticipation of things (either good or bad). The related verb elpizô (elpô, elpomai) meant “to expect” (in a hopeful way, or in fear). Related words in old Greek: Elpismos, “expectation”; elpistos, “to be expected”; elpisteon, “one must expect”; elpistikos, “producing expectation”.
(A note: The article hg04.htm has more on the timing of “That Day” or “the Day of the Anointed”, Hebrews 10:25 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 – that is, the timing of the day when the event which the saints eagerly expected and looked forward to, actually took place.)
The Greek text of Hebrews 10:23 contains even the word pistos, used in the meaning “faithful”. Again, this was connected to the fact that God the Father had betrothed the saints to his son Jesus. Their betrothal was binding. This meant that they had to be faithful to Jesus. It appears that Paul’s meaning was, in effect, “the Father who betrothed us to his son Jesus, is faithful” [and will also marry us to him, just as he promised], “so, let us also be faithful”. Or, possibly, “Jesus the Bridegroom whom we are betrothed to, is certainly faithful, so, let us then also be faithful [on our part]”. (This is regarding Hebrews 10:23.)
In Hebrews 10:23, many bible-translators have rendered the old Greek word homologia as “profession” or “confession”. Translators have phrased even other things in that chapter so that the readers are caused to think that the apostle was talking about a “church”. But, he was talking about the saints’ relationship with Jesus – their betrothal to him. Explanation:
The primary meaning of the noun homologia was “agreement”, “compact”, “contract” (see the Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell and Scott). Some details:
This rather long appendix is included here, because many bible-versions have in Acts 15:9 and 10:20 wordings that cause the readers to misunderstand those passages.
The old Greek verb diakrinô consisted of the prefix dia (“two”) and the verb krinô which had to do with separating, distinguishing, choosing, judging. Idiomatically, the verb diakrinô was used of such things as “separating one from another” (also in the meaning “discriminating”), and “deciding” or “settling” (making judgments).
Also, as is noted in the main part of this article, it is obvious that in the case James 1:6, the verb diakrinô refers to “[not] having two views at the same time”, that is, [not] being undecided. (This has to do with the phrase medên diakrinomenos, referring to “not hesitating”, that is, not being undecided – simply, James told those whom he was writing to that they had to “choose sides”.
Let us consider Acts 15:9 where the Greek text contains both the verb diakrinô and the noun pistis (“faith”). In the case of that verse, the word diakrinô refers to “[not] making a difference between [people]”. We read (this records the words of the apostle Peter):
Acts 15:7 […] “Brothers, you know what happened some time ago. God chose me so that people who aren’t Jewish could hear the Good News and believe. 8 God, who knows everyone’s thoughts, showed that he approved of people who aren’t Jewish by giving them the Holy Spirit as he gave the Holy Spirit to us. 9 God doesn’t discriminate [diakrinô] between Jewish and non-Jewish people. He has cleansed non-Jewish people through faith as he has cleansed us Jews. (GWV, highlighting and comment added)
A note, regarding the phrase “through faith” in verse 9: Of course, it was not those people’s “faith” that made them right (“pure”) before God. But, they put their trust in God and in his son Jesus. Through Jesus’ Sacrifice, they were considered justified and thus “pure”.
The background story is found in Acts 10:20. There, the verb diakrinô is used in a similar manner. Here is that verse with some of its context:
Acts 10:9 And on the morrow, these passing along on the road, and drawing near to the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray about the sixth hour. 10 And he became hungry and wished to taste food. But as they were preparing, an ecstasy fell on him. 11 And he saw the heaven being opened and a certain vessel like a great sheet coming down on him, being bound by four corners, and let down onto the earth; 12 in which were all the four-footed animals of the earth, and the wild beasts, and the creeping things, and the birds of the heaven. 13 And a voice came to him, Rise up, Peter, slay and eat. 14 But Peter said, Not at all, Lord, because I never did eat anything common or unclean. 15 And again a voice came to him a second time, What things God made clean, you do not make common. 16 And this happened three times, and the vessel was taken up into the heaven again. 17 And as Peter was doubting within himself what the vision which he saw might be, even behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius stood on the porch asking out the house of Simon. 18 And calling out, they inquired if Simon being surnamed Peter is lodged here. 19 And as Peter pondered concerning the vision, the Spirit said to him, Behold, three men are seeking you. 20 But rising up, go down and go with them, not discriminating [medên diakrinomenos], because I have sent them. (LIT, highlighting and comment added)
A number of bible-versions have in verse 20 “doubting nothing”. Some have thought that to be connected to “faith”. But, it is obvious that just as the above-quoted LIT has it, the phrase medên diakrinomenos in the Greek text of that verse indeed has to do with discriminating. Clarification: The context was not about “doubting”. Nor was it about “foods” as some want to make it to. The context was that God showed Peter that he was not to discriminate people on the ground of their ethnic roots. “Go with them, not discriminating, because I have sent them”.
Background: Before this event, there were no non-Jews in the saints’ fellowships. But now, God was about to give the Holy Spirit even to non-Jews. First in line were Cornelius and some others with him. God had heard the prayers of the non-Jewish man Cornelius, and had told him to send for Peter (Acts 10:1-8). Now, Peter was a Jew, and so, he had racial prejudice, because of his upbringing. Because of this, God had to prepare Peter for that meeting with non-Jews, through a vision including “unclean” things. In that vision, Peter heard a voice say:
Acts 10:15 […] What God has cleansed do not consider unclean. (VW06)
Acts 10:15 […] “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (ESV01)
Again, this was about people, and not about “foods” as some say. God told the apostle Simon Peter to follow the men whom Cornelius had sent, even though they and Cornelius were not Jews. The Jews traditionally considered non-Jews as “unclean”, but they were not that, for God.
As is recorded in the earlier quoted Acts 15:7-9, later Simon Peter commented on that event, noting that God does not discriminate between Jewish and non-Jewish people.
So, there was no difference between Jews and non-Jews, in regard to “matters of faith”. Even the “gentiles” (Greek ethnê, “nations”, which is to say, non-Jews) were to hear the Good Message, and “believe” or “have faith”. That is, even non-Jews could put their trust in God and his son Jesus, and receive the Holy Spirit and salvation.
Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → gs09.htm
On the King James translation, the “authorised version”. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → hs03.htm
Religion must not be skin-deep only. Believers must take the matters of faith seriously. → gh11.htm
What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → mg08.htm
How the saints took care of widows, the elderly, the sick and the needy. → im07.htm
Jesus to his disciples, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34 and Matthew 6:21). What did he mean? → hh12.htm
How to understand the Bible. Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → hg02.htm
How to study the Bible in a deeper way. Some notes and guidelines on study methods. → hs01.htm
What does the English language word and concept “doctrine” literally mean? Likewise, the terms “dogma”, “creed” and “tenet”, what do they signify? → gs08.htm
Jesus warned about false prophets, deceivers and deception. He said that many would be deceived. → ho09.htm
The origin and meaning of the word “church”. → gg06.htm
What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there, and if so, for how long? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → gh04.htm
Hebrews 4:9, the Sabbatismos or Rest which the saints were to enter – a clarification of its actual nature. → hz10.htm
How should one pray? A study on the matter of prayer. → fh10.htm
What happened to the saints, in the first century? Also, some notes on the “early church”. → hg04.htm
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