Thursday, January 29, 2009

What do we mean by faith? And Where does it come in?

Without a clear idea of what we mean by faith, it could be all sorts of different things. Does faith mean belief absent any evidence, or belief in the face of a mountain of counter-evidence? Then of course the Muslim can have faith, and the Mormon can have faith, and the Catholic can have faith, and the Protestant can have faith, and the person who believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pastafarians) can have faith.

Some people like to quote the Hebrews passage, "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Without further explanation, that doesn't do much for us.

Let me quote C. S. Lewis: "I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in."

So what is faith, and what is the point where it does come in?

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

In relation to the CS Lewis quote, I think faith comes in when there is evidence that is inconclusive. For instance, I think accepting deism or a basic theism is easy - between the philosophical arguments, historical arguments, even discoveries of science and nature, getting to the point of accepting a creator of our universe or taking the mental/mind as somehow fundamental to reality is easy. Oddly, I don't think faith comes at this point (Other than faith in one's senses, faith in information, faith in one's conclusions, etc, which still can be considerable faith.)

With Christianity, I think faith comes in primarily when you realize that you are in essence trusting an agent, and an agent (whether due to actual libertarian freedom or FAPP simply because it's impossible to know their every move, motivation, or development) is free. Even if you're certain an agent exists, even if they have a good track record, etc, to have a serious relationship with them requires faith.

I think there's plenty of other ways faith springs up, but at the moment I think that's one of the most important types of faith in the context of Christianity.

normajean said...

I wrote this on a blog elsewhere: There is a significant misunderstanding in and out of the church today that unqualifiedly tells us that faith is blind. Right off the bat let me submit to you that if one has any faith (believes) at all this seems to suggest there is at least some body of knowledge before us that explains the pathway to faith. At some point or another, reasons probably play a small part in further assent.

Now, the Greek word for faith (pistis) placed in various scriptural circumstances tells us that faith is robust enough to carry with it the idea of belief, trust, commitment, conviction, and more… This is why “according to the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, faith in this sense has three components. First, there is notitia, or understanding. That is, one must understand the truth claim being made. Second, there is assensus, or assent. One must accept intellectually that the claim is, in fact, true. One not only understands it; he assents to it or agrees with it. Finally, there is fiducia, or trust. Saving faith involves not merely intellectual assent to some doctrines but a whole-hearted commitment or trust in God, about whom the claims are made. To say that Christian faith is reasonable in this sense is to say that believing in the God of the Bible is a rational thing for a person to do. To take the step of faith is a reasonable step for an intelligent and informed person.”

If faith is as blind as some state that it is then it hardly makes sense for Jesus to ask His inner audience (His apostles) to blindly believe what they already know to be true. Jesus (the second person of the Trinity) is not asking His audience to blindly believe, rather He was calling them to entrust their very lives to Him. In this sense, faith is trusting what you know to be true!

New Testament scholar N. T. Wright describes a story from 1st century historian Josephus. Josephus was an army commander and had caught an enemy and told him to “repent and believe in me.” Wright expressed his surprise because of course we are used to hearing those words in a very religious context. But what they meant to the first century hearer was to give up your cause, your form of revolution, and join me in mine. In other words, the idea of believe in me carried with it following or joining in and aligning oneself with. Do things my way… In this way, faith carries with it not just the idea of assent or believing—for a 1st century Jew, it meant commitment.

A clearer example is this: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever BELIEVES (PISTEO in the Greek means commitment) in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

This is really the crisis of faith by the way. The issue is not really being convinced that Jesus was a historical figure as the New Testament portrays Him and acknowledging who He was and is. The crisis of faith is once one is convinced, what are you going to do about it?

Gordon Knight said...

I thought the primary meaning of faith is trust. It pressuposes belief, but is not the same thing as belief.

Mike Darus said...

Norma Jean: good post.
Victor's question seems to ask, "What moves us from knowledge to assent to trust?" CS Lewis seems to depend highly on reason to do the job.

There are three moves. The first is the move to knowledge. This seems simple but is complicated when inaccurate information must first be displaced. It is also difficult in the cacophony of voices. Reason can play a key part of displacing erroneous information. However, it is not likely the source of the information.

The second move is from knowledge (notitia) to assent. This seems to be a primary battle ground. Here is the demand for evidence to validate the truth claims. Reason cuts both ways. We hope reason is on the side of truth but both (all) sides lay claim to reason. More than reason is likely required. When we lay claim to assent, both the cause of our change of mind and our intended purposes are honestly much more complex than "I decided" or "I was convinced" or "The strength of the argument was overwhelming."

The third move from assent to trust is even trickier. Here the professors are separated from the possessors. Here the "ch-easters" are separated from the disciples. The wheat mixes with the chaff.

Those that appreciate the enormity of the moves are more likely to conclude that faith is more than the act of the human will. It must require some act of God.

Ilíon said...

Mike Darus: "... Those that appreciate the enormity of the moves are more likely to conclude that faith is more than the act of the human will. It must require some act of God."

And yet God seems to be expecting human beings (in both OT and NT) to exercise an act of the will and thereby have 'faith' -- which Greek word means both the English words 'to believe' and 'to obey.'

Ilíon said...

(At least of) One of the Greek words translated as 'beleve' is also translated as 'obey.' By Strong's numbering system, the word at #3982 (and its derivatives, such as #3980, #3981, #543, #544, #545), peitho, means a range of things related to belief, but also includes 'obey.'

For instance:
Romans 2:8 (KJV): "But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,"

Romans 2:8 (NIV): "But for those who are self-seeking and reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger."

and:
Romans 15:31 (KJV): "That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints;"

Romans 15:31 (NIV): "Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there,"



In fact, just using a Strong's concordance for the KJV and referencing 'obey,' it appears that all the words translated as 'obey' mean at root "believing" or "attentive listening" or "harkening."

The point being that in NT terms, "to believe" and "to obey" are inseperable.

Joe said...

I'm not sure about Martin Luther's understanding it seems to confuse the issue. Martin Luther is famous for saying faith must trample reason under foot or something like that.

I think we want to understand what Paul and John meant by faith more than what Martin Luther meant. Pistis seems to be belief/conviction and trust. 2 conditions of faith are found in Hebrews but not where most people quote!

In Hebrews we find that in order to have faith one must, at least, believe in God and Seek him.

John doesn't use the word Pistis as often as Paul. (if at all) He uses a word translated as “believe.” Which as Illian points out also can mean obey.

We can rationally trust people just as we can rationally trust God. Hebrews great cloud of witnesses makes this point.


Hebrews implicitly says we must beleive in God and seek him in order to have faith.

Ilíon said...

But 'pistis' (# 4102 in Strong's system), commonly translated as 'faith' or 'trust' or 'persuasion' or 'conviction' (and related/derivative words), is itself derived from 'peitho' (# 3982 in Strong's system).

Joe said...

Illion
I didn't know that. How does the strong system work? How can you tell that according to the Strong system pistis is derived from peitho and not the other way around.

The other question is: how does Strong tell which word is derived from which? I mean do we have enough ancient Greek writing to tell which word came first?

Ilíon said...

Joe: "How does the strong system work? How can you tell that according to the Strong system pistis is derived from peitho and not the other way around."

To speak of "Strong's system" is merely to speak of Strong's method of numbering each of the distinct words used in the Greek New Testament (or, to be more specific, an ideal Greek NT as known to scholarship of the time). "Strong's system" is a different thing from Koine scholarship.

How can I tell that according to Strong's scholarship the word 'pistis' is derived from the word 'peitho?' That's simple ... because he says so (see the link).

How do I know that Strong's scholarship is sound? That's a bit more difficult. I know he's not infallible, and I know that Biblical Greek is a bit better understood today than a century ago. So, it has to come down to trusting that he's mostly got it right.


Joe: "The other question is: how does Strong tell which word is derived from which? I mean do we have enough ancient Greek writing to tell which word came first?"

How do we know which English words are the roots and which the derived? Especially if the root is no longer in use? How do we know which hypothetical Indo-European word is the common root of, say 'mother,' in Greek and Sanskrit and Latin and English? Educated deduction ... the result may not always be correct, but we strive to do the best we can.

Joe said...

Thanks for the information. It seems to me that this topic should be more thoroughly discussed somewhere. I mean what Paul meant by "Faith/Pisitis" and what John meant by "Believe/peitho" are hugely important for Christians! Yet when Christians talk about what "faith" is they almost never thoroughly examine what the Greek words mean and how we know what they mean etc. At best they give it a gloss to the Greek and then move on to what someone thought faith meant centuries or even over a thousand years later!

Are you or anyone aware of anything (book article or whatever) that really goes into depth on what the Greek words mean and how we know etc? I am gathering that the word Pistis does not appear anywhere other than in the NT. But I think I read an article from tektonics that it was derived from a Greek word which meant forensic proof. I would pay money to have an hour talking with someone who really has a handle on ancient Greek and these “faith” and “belief” words in particular.

Ilíon said...

Joe: "... At best they give it a gloss to the Greek and then move on to what someone thought faith meant centuries or even over a thousand years later!"

Worse, today's anti-theologians get away with "defining" 'faith' as "belief without or contrary to reason." Of course, it must also be acknowledge that *our* guys gave up the fight two centuries ago and are only in the past couple of generations getting back into it -- I can't tell you how much, even as a child, I despised that stupid idea, when I finally encountered it, expressed as "a blind leap of faith."


Joe: "Are you or anyone aware of anything (book article or whatever) that really goes into depth on what the Greek words mean and how we know etc?"

No, I don't know. There surely is, though, somewhere.


Joe: "I am gathering that the word Pistis does not appear anywhere other than in the NT."

Not according to the Tufts University 'Perseus' on-line Greek library (see here). For instance, Aristophanes' use in 'Frogs' (item 3) was some centuries before the NT was written, as was Plato's use in 'Gorgias' (item 13).


Joe: "But I think I read an article from tektonics that it was derived from a Greek word which meant forensic proof."

That's essentially what 'peitho' means (i.e. "to convince by argument"), which Strong says is the root-word of 'pistis'

I'd forgotten that I have the Greek-English concordance published for the NIV (I'd inherited the Strong's KJV-hased, I bought the NIV-based). This concordance assignes different numbers to the words (I presume because the NIV utilizes texts unavailable four centuries ago when the KJV was made). It's key indicates that 'pistis' and 'peitho' are related words, but doesn't indicate what the relationship is.

Here (again, at the Tufts U Perseus site) is the Liddle-Scott lexicon entry for 'pistis.' Here is the Liddle-Scott intermediate lexicon entry for 'pistis.' As you can see, even aside from 'peitho,' the word implies reason/evidence based trust. It does *not* mean anything like "belief absent or contrary to evidence."

Also, notice that the Liddle-Scott intermediate lexicon entry for 'pistis' does link the word to 'peithomai/peitho' (though, I wasn't able to exacly what they're saying about that linkage)

Joe said...

Illion
Thanks for the links. We see that in the intermediate version they tend to give a different definition for the same word in the NT than what they give it in other books. It shows indeed how blurred the line is between translation and interpretation. I think there is allot for a thoughtful Christian to consider here.

Ilíon said...

"We see that in the intermediate version they tend to give a different definition for the same word in the NT than what they give it in other books."

That may (or may not, I don't know) reflect a certain degree of modernist prejudice.


"It shows indeed how blurred the line is between translation and interpretation."

There is no such thing as "prue" translation, it always involves interpretation.