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Word Study of Faith and Faithfulness (pistos aman)

The Godly Man: Transformed by God's Faithfulness

"Studying the Words of Faith"

Paul J. Bucknell

Faith & Faithfulness | Hebrews 11 | Counterfeit Faith | Righteous live by Faith | God's Faithfulness | Words of Faith | Cultivating Faith | God's Extreme Faithfulness | Faithfulness in Temptation | Testimonies on Faithfulness

A Biblical study of the word faith is critical to gaining a good understanding of the topic. Faith is used about 230 times in the Bible. Of these, it is interestingly used only a handful of times in the Old Testament (OT). Different versions range from 2 (KJV) to about more than 10 (NIV), but even here it is used mostly in the sense 'breaking faith'. This difference highlights the differences between the Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) languages and perspectives.

NT Greek Usage

The Hebrew people were down to earth. Their words were not philosophical but practical. The NT Greek was highly influenced by the Greek philosophers, even in Palestine. They would use more philosophical terms and concepts. In this case we see the OT not using 'faith' but the more concrete word faithful. The opposite is true in the NT; faith is used. Let me chart it for you.

Word in New American Standard Bible (NASB)
OT
NT
Total

Faith

4
228
232

faithful(-ness)

82
47
129

Even more interesting is the actual words that are used.

The title of this 'Faith and Faithful' series derives from the Greek usage of the word pistos. This word is commonly translated faith or faithfulness. They both come from the Greek word 'pistos' which we find in the word 'epistemology.' Anywhere you go, (I checked most of them), you can freely interchange faith with faithfulness or vice-a-versa. This can greatly aid a person in his study on faith.

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Connected

First of all, we must conclude that faith and faithful are connected like Siamese twins. Kill one and lose the other. A person's faithfulness is totally dependent upon ones faith. This is important in an age where we often hear character is not connected to a person's gifting. This is usually used when one is thinking about a Christian leader falling into immorality or getting divorced. We must see that character problems are faith problems. Rigorous standards should be used to help us make proper decisions when our feelings are confused.

Faith and Belief shape our life, actions and attitudesInterchangeable

Secondly, we are able to gain much more insight into the meaning of the scriptures. For example, a simple verse is 3 John 15, "Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers." Instead we could more literally translate "practicing faith" or "practicing belief" or "practicing trust."

Faithfulness is in fact an act of faith. If we are going to obey the Lord, then we will need our faith. We do these things because we believe and trust the Lord. All the superficial distinctions that keep us separating faith from works disappears. In this case, we will better understand the old argument between faith and words. Faith is works; it is faithfulness.

Blended

Thirdly, if we take a brief look at the verb to believe, we will see it is the same as the word to trust or have faith in. But in English, we do not say "to faith." Instead we use the words trust and believe. They are all the same in Greek (pisteuo). Again this confirms the foolishness to separate the thought of faith from the action to trust. They are blended together. Faith is believing, putting confidence in, being persuaded of. What we believe shapes what we do. Faith is not just something one acknowledges. If I believe something, then it will shape me.

"It doesn't matter what you believe in just so you believe."
People say this because they don't believe in the truth. There is no ultimate reality. In their minds, there is nothing trustworthy.
Although it seems a philosophical argument, down deep it is a moral one. They don't want to obey God.

The Old Testament Hebrew Use of Faith

The Old Testament usage is also interesting. The one Hebrew verb (aman) and its derivative (emunah) are translated into a wide selection of words. We have looked elsewhere where the word means true, truth, real. Here we are focusing on its associate meanings, to be faithful, reliable and steady. In other words, being true makes one trustworthy. If it is real, then it is reliable. We see today a whole number of people saying, "It doesn't matter what you believe in just so you believe." People say this because they don't believe in the truth. There is no ultimate reality. In their minds, there is nothing trustworthy. We can see why it doesn't matter what they trust in.

However, this is very different than with what we find in the scriptures. God is truth. God is faithful. God is faith-worthy. We can and should put our trust in Him. Adam stopped believing when he sinned. Through Christ, we can put our faith back in Him. Adam sinned when he trusted an unreliable one. We believe when we place our faith in the Reliable One. This is why a Christian is not only made right with God through faith, but also constantly maintains his walk with the Lord by faith. Faith is relying on the Faithful One. Let us look at two significant OT verses.

Genesis 15:6 becomes the key to understanding the gospel faith. Even Habakkuk's or Paul's "just shall live by faith" seems clearly derived from this foundational statement. Again, it is not just a statement but a statement of faith established in life.

"Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness."

Here we find belief connected with righteousness. Abraham's faith in Yahweh (LORD) caused the LORD to reckon or account to Abraham righteousness. What we call Pauline theology is more accurately called Abrahamic theology. Although Abraham did the believing, it was really God who caused the righteousness to be imputed or designated to Abraham's account. This is the roots of righteousness by faith alone.

Many wonder why one has to believe to be saved. We see that Abraham was not perfect. He was not inherently righteous. He had nothing he could commonly share with God. His righteousness was received from God. It was given to him. Of course, it would be many centuries later that we would understand the reason God could give a person righteousness. God cannot overlook sin. Instead He made a transaction, His righteous Son for the unrighteous ones. Christ died in His people's stead. Christ took that penalty of death from us and attributed Christ's righteousness to us. This is the reason a Christian needs to be "in Christ." The transaction was made but only those in Christ will be saved. We become part of Christ when we believe and trust Him.

One other passage should be noted among the many others because of its great beauty. Isaiah 25:1 says,

O LORD, Thou art my God; I will exalt Thee, I will give thanks to Thy name; For Thou hast worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness.

Isaiah bursts forth in praise and exaltation to the Lord. God's faithfulness is seen in wonderfully working through his past plans in present time. If we could read Hebrew, we would see that 'perfect faithfulness' is really 'faithful certainty.' The two Hebrew words for belief are used right next to each other. (1) In His faithfulness, He is faithful. There is no way any slight mark of unfaithfulness could be part of Him. He is ultimately faithful His Word is sure and trustworthy.

Summary

Through this short study on the words used for faith and belief, we are encouraged to join in Isaiah's burst of praise and thanks. Truly there is no God like Him. The world is wandering in a graveyard without any hope, but those who know God have great confidence in His faithfulness. He never changes. Deuteronomy 7:9-10 says,

"Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face."

Notes
(1) Edward J. Young explains if the words were simply two adjacent nouns rather than one describing the other, then a conjunction should be expected between them. (The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 2, p. 186.)