Gotta Have Faith, But What is Faith?
What is faith? Is it trusting someone one or something, is it cognitively knowing something, is it a general approach to life (gotta have faith), or is it what we believe (the faith)? Yes, perhaps to all. Matthew Bates, in his two books, contends faith has to be connected to allegiance and loyalty (Salvation by Allegiance Alone and Gospel Allegiance), and now along comes Nijay Gupta, in Paul and the Language of Faith, to sort it all out!
We need this book. Every pastor who wants to sort this out needs this book. Nijay’s an accessible writer who cares about pastors and churches.
Why? First, because he updates scholarship on all the crucial passages. Second, because he offers cautious and wise conclusions. And, third, because preachers and evangelists need this book — they are often ones who are offered opportunities to call people to follow Jesus, to believe-trust-know, and they need to see the rich variety of variegation of this term in biblical theology.
With chapters on Paul and in non-biblical texts and the Gospels and some more in Paul and on “covenantal nomism” being updated to “covenantal pistism” and debates about “faith of Christ” (Christ’s faith or faith in Christ or both or neither?) … he comes to the following:
Faith, or better for the moment, the pist- word group, cannot be reduced to one English term or connotation.
One might call this polyvalence, using the idea of modulation. It is as if pistis falls on a spectrum from believing (cognitive/epistemological) faith to obeying (volitional/social/practical) faith. Depending on the context, the pragmatic meaning can be plotted somewhere on this continuum, with some cases where it appears to fall to one extreme or the other. And sometimes Paul used pistis in a more comprehensive or all-encompassing sense, where it could be called trusting faith.
Faith often means faithfulness or loyalty or allegiance.
It is the faith that dovetails with obedience; it is the energy that produces the movement that becomes outward obedience.
Faith often means “believing faith.” [Thus, “belief” or “faith.”]
But as far as Paul is concerned, his faith language is not primarily focused on correct knowledge as much as it is about the correct way of looking at all of reality. To use a computer metaphor, faith is not about having the right data or even the right software; it is about using the right operating system.
Faith at times means “trusting faith.”
Finally, Paul’s faith language in Galatians and Romans (1:16-17; cf. Hab 2:4) is interesting because he sometimes uses pistis in an absolute sense, that is, without descriptors (Gal 1:23; 3:23,25). In these cases it is as if pistis stands for something like Christianity, Christ, the Christian life, and so on. Just as Jews used pistis to refer to their relationship with God (in, e.g., Josephus and Septuagint), Paul employed faith language in reference to the human-divine relation.
It is then wrong to pose faith and works always as opposites.
For Paul, there was indeed a problem with a narrow emphasis on works, but not because it was too active or because it presumed self-righteousness. Rather, for Paul, works as works became problematic when they replaced or detracted from pistis. For Paul, (1) pistis had a relational core and (2) the Christ-relation is central to this relational dynamic. This can explain how Paul could use pistis as a kind of shorthand to talk about Christianity, the way of Christ, the religious experience of Jesus followers, the gospel of Jesus Christ, trust in Christ, and so on.
OK, the big one: pistis Christou, “faith of Christ” (faith in Christ, Christ’s own faithfulness?)
One of the biggest challenges for the third view (in whatever version) is the matter of translation: what is the easiest rendering in plain English? Neither “faith in Christ” nor “faithfulness of Christ” does justice to this perspective. While it may not be elegant, I suggest the “Christ-relation(ship),” which is properly Christ centered, respecting the relational aspect of pistis, but leaving understated who is doing what.
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