Faith, Believe, “Exercising Faith”
w90 12/1 p. 30 Questions From Readers:
Why does the New World Translation at times render the Greek word pi·steu'o as "believe" (like most translations) and at other times as "exercise [or put] faith in"?
This is done to reflect different shades of meaning that are expressed by the Greek word pi·steu'o.
For example, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, by James Moulton, notes that early Christians clearly recognized “the importance of the difference between mere belief . . . and personal trust.” Both these thoughts can be expressed using the Greek word pi·steu'o.
Often, the different shades of meaning of pi·steu'o must be discerned from the context. At times, though, different grammatical constructions help us to see what the writer had in mind. For example, if pi·steu'o is followed merely by a noun in the dative case, the New World Translation usually renders it simply as “believe” - unless the context indicates something different. (Matthew 21:25, 32; but see Romans 4:3.) If pi·steu'o is followed by the word e·pi', “on,” it is generally rendered “believe on.” (Matthew 27:42; Acts 16:31) If it is followed by eis, “to” [or “into” - RDB], it is usually translated “exercise faith in.” - John 12:36; 14:1.
This latter rendering (which reminds us that pi·steu'o is related to the Greek word pi'stis, “faith”) is in harmony with a comment in An Introductory Grammar of New Testament Greek, by Paul Kaufman. This work says: “Another construction which is common in the New Testament (especially in John's Gospel) is πιστεύω [pi·steu'o] with εἰς [eis] and the accusative case [as found at John 3:16] . . . The whole construction of εἰςplus the accusative must be translated rather than attempting to translate the preposition εἰςas an isolated word. Faith is thought of as an activity, as something men do, i.e. putting faith into someone.”
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The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology
(“Indispensable for advanced theological students and scholars as well as for ordinary Bible Students.” - Christianity Today):
“πιστἰς (pistis), faith; πιστεύω (pisteuo), believe .... CL 1. (a) In classical Gk literature .... With reference to people, pisteuo means to obey.” ....
“(b) Originally the word-group denoted conduct that honoured an agreement or bond. .... [p. 594]
“[NT] 2. Paul and the Pauline Tradition. .... ‘Faith’ means receiving the message of salvation and conduct based on the gospel. .... [p. 601]
“4. The Understanding of Faith in the Rest of the NT. .... [James] demands renunciation of all conduct that conflicts with living faith and confession (1:6ff.). For him, faith and obedient conduct are indissolubly linked. Faith understood merely as trust and confession is not able to save. Only through obedience ... and conduct which fulfills the commandments of God does faith come to completion (James 2:22). .... For the thesis which Jas. wishes to argue is that ‘faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead’ (2:17).” [pp. 603-605] - Vol. 1, Zondervan Publ., 1986.
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The New Bible Dictionary (which Christianity Today describes as “true to the Bible as God’s word” and “destined to become a standard that will be turned to often by students and ministers alike”) says about pisteuo:
“The man who really believes God will, of course, act on that belief. In other words, a genuine belief that what God has revealed as true will issue in a true faith. .... [p. 367]
“Faith implies complete reliance on God and full obedience to God.” [p. 368] - Tyndale House Publ., 1984.
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The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament tells us about pisteuo:
“C. Faith in Judaism. 1. The OT Legacy .... The OT [Septuagint] term, however, carries a stronger element [than in even the classical Greek] of acknowledgment and obedience. [pp. 852, 853]
“D. The pistis Group in the NT. .... 1. Continuation of the OT and Jewish Tradition..... b. pisteuo as ‘to obey.’ Heb. 11 stresses that to believe is to obey, as in the OT. Paul in Rom. 1:8; 1 Th. 1:8 (cf.
Rom. 15:18; 16:19) shows, too, that believing means obeying. He speaks about the obedience of faith in Rom. 1:5, and cf. 10:3; 2 Cor. 9:13.” [pp. 853, 854] - Kittel & Friedrich, Eerdmans Publ., 1992 reprint.
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The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (“a standard in the field”) also tells us:
.... a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messish ... conjoined with obedience to Christ.” - p. 511, Joseph H. Thayer, Baker Book House, 1977.
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Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics
says concerning pisteuo specifically as found at John 3:16:
πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων [εἰς]
everyone who believes [into]
The idea seems to be both gnomic and continual: ‘everyone who continually believes.’
This is not due to the present tense only, but to the use of the present participle
πιστεύων] of πιστεύω….” - p. 620, Daniel B. Wallace, Zondervan Publ., 1996.
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Dr. William Barclay discusses pisteuo as used at John 3:15 (also in present participle form,
pisteuwn, as defined above by Wallace):
“So then belief [
πιστεύω] in Jesus has these three elements -  belief that God is our loving Father,  belief that Jesus is the son of God and therefore tells us the truth about God and life, and  unswerving and unquestioning obedience to Jesus.” - p. 136, Vol. 1, The Gospel of John, Rev. ed., The Daily Study Bible Series, The Westminster Press, 1975.
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Even Martin Luther tells us,
“It is impossible, indeed, to separate works from faith, just as it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire.” And, “In chapter 12 [of Romans], Paul speaks of the true way of serving God. He shows that all Christians are priests,.... He then describes the outward conduct of Christians under the discipline of the spirit; how they must teach, preach ... and act towards friend, foe, and fellow-man. These are the works which a Christian does, for, as I have said, faith is not an inert thing.” - from the Preface of the Epistle to the Romans as quoted in Martin Luther, selections from his writings, Doubleday Publishing, 1961, pp. 24 & 33.
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So, much more is involved in real Faith than just passively believing something.
Notice this contrasting parallel in John 3:36:
“He who believes [
πιστεύων] in [εἰς] the Son has eternal life; But
he who does not obey the Son shall not see life” - NASB.
πιστεύωνused in a parallel sense to ‘obey’ here. There has to be, at least, a strong element of obedience understood to be in the word πιστεύων, or the contrasting parallel used by John would be senseless.
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Luther also said,
“Furthermore, every man is responsible for his own faith, and he must see to it for himself that he believes rightly.” - Martin Luther, p. 385.
From “Christian Discussions” an on-line discussion group:
“Faith” – A Word of Action
One of the most absurd statements that we ever read was from a denominationalist who declared: “Faith is the only thing that one can do without doing anything.” The affirmation is a textbook case of contradiction.
The following examples will clearly reveal that genuine faith is not a mere attitude; rather, it is a word of action.
1. Jesus was teaching in the city of Capernaum. The crowds so pressed around Him that some who sought His presence could not gain access to the Lord. Four enterprising men brought a lame friend, climbed to the rooftop of the house wherein Christ was teaching, and lowered their impotent companion through the ceiling. Significantly, the inspired writer comments: “And Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).
What did Christ see? He literally saw the action of these men (including the sick man who obviously endorsed the activity). But the action is called faith. In a similar vein, James challenged: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (Jas. 2:18).
2. John 3:16 is perhaps the best-known verse in the Bible, but it is one of the most misunderstood. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Does the “belief” of this passage include obedience, or exclude it? A comparison of this verse with Hebrews 5:9 reveals that the former is the case. In John 3:16 believing results in eternal life. In Hebrews 5:9, eternal salvation is said to issue from obedience to Christ. It thus should be quite clear that the belief that saves is one that manifests itself in obeying the Son of God. True faith is not just a mental process.
3. Note this declaration from the Lord: “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36 ASV).
We have cited the ASV here because it is more accurate in its rendition of the original language than is the KJV. The term in the latter portion of the verse is apeitheo, which, according to Balz & Schneider, literally means “to disobey” (118). In this passage “believing” is set in vivid contrast to disobedience.
Is not Christ suggesting that the one who obeys the Son is promised life, but the person who disobeys will not receive such?
Observe a similar usage in Acts 14:1, 2 “. . . a great multitude both of Jews and of Greeks believed. But the Jews that were disobedient stirred up the souls of the Gentiles, and made them evil affected against the brethren.”
In the book of Hebrews we are informed that God was displeased with many rebellious Israelites who died in the wilderness. They were condemned because they were “disobedient” – yes, they were not allowed to enter the promised land due to their “unbelief” (Heb. 3:18, 19). Continuing that analogy, it will be those who have “believed” who will enter the final rest (4:3), but those who are “disobedient” will not (4:6).
The Bible knows nothing of true “faith” that is divorced from obedience.
4. When a jailor in the city of Philippi feared for his life during an earthquake that rocked the prison, he pled with Paul and Silas: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” God’s messengers proclaimed to him the gospel. Evincing repentance (for having beaten his prisoners), the jailor washed their stripes. Subsequently, he and his family were immersed (Acts 16:31-33).
Significantly, this entire process is summed up in this fashion: “And he . . . rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God” (34). It is clear that the participle, “having believed,” includes the jailor’s repentance and his baptism.
5. The book of Romans demonstrates that faith is an action term. For example, Paul commends the “faith” of these saints, which, says he, is “proclaimed throughout the whole world” (1:8). As he concludes the epistle he again congratulates them: “For your obedience is come abroad unto all men” (16:19). Faith and obedience are parallel in these verses. In fact, at the beginning and end of the book, the expression “obedience of faith” stands like guardian sentinels, defining the character of biblical faith (1:5; 16:26). In Romans 10:16, those who refused to “obey the gospel” fulfilled Isaiah’s prediction that some would not “believe” the divine report.
6. That the “faith” system of the New Testament is not merely a mental phenomenon is evidenced by Galatians 3:26, 27. There Paul declares: “For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For [a conjunction of explanation] as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ.”
Immersion was an integral part of the faith process. Later, to the same people, the apostle affirmed that the faith that avails is that which is “working through love” (Gal. 5:6). The fact of the matter is, believing itself is a work (cf. John 6:27-29; cf. 1 Thes. 1:3).
7. James shows the connection between faith and obedience when he writes: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works [obedience], in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar? You see that faith operated with his works [obedience], and by works [his obedience] was [his] faith made complete; and the scripture was fulfilled which says, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God” (Jas. 2:21-23).
If faith plus obedience constitutes one as a “friend of God,” how would one be characterized who has faith minus obedience?
8. Those who possessed genuine intellectual-emotional faith were granted the “right to become” children of God (John 1:12), but they were not, by that faith, automatically constituted sons of God.
9. That “faith alone” is invalid as a means of redemption is revealed by a number of biblical examples.
There were many Jews who “believed on” Christ (John 8:30,31), but their faith was not operative, hence, the Lord appropriately described them as children of the devil (8:44).
There were those among the Hebrew rulers who “believed on him [Christ],” but because of Pharisaic pressure they would not confess their faith; they loved the glory of men more than that of God (John 12:42).
Will anyone contend that these proud egotists were saved simply because they “believed” (cf. Matt. 12:32)? What was the flaw in their theology?
Luke records that when Christ was preached, “a great number that believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). The construction of the original language indicates that the “believing” was prior to the “turning,” hence, turning to the Lord involved something in addition to their faith.
The Language Authorities
It is this type of biblical evidence that has compelled leading New Testament language authorities to acknowledge that “faith” is more than a mere philosophy of belief. Genuine faith cannot be separated from submission to the Lord.
Liddell & Scott show that the verb pisteuo (believe) can mean “to comply” (1273).
H. Cremmer stated that the noun pistis (faith), both in the Old and New Testaments “is a bearing towards God and His revelation which recognizes and confides in Him and in it, which not only acknowledges and holds to His word as true, but practically applies and appropriates it.” (482).
W.E. Vine noted that pistis involves “a personal surrender” to Christ (71).
Lexicographer J.H. Thayer commented that pisteuo includes “a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah” – the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ.” (511).
O. Michael has stated: “Faith understood merely as trust and confession is not able to save. Only through obedience . . . and conduct which fulfills the commandments of God does faith come to completion (Jas. 2:22)” (604).
Bultmann contended that “‘to believe’ is ‘to obey’” (205). He stressed that this is particularly emphasized in Hebrews 11:7. He further made this interesting comment: “According to Paul, the event of salvation history is actualized for the individual, not in pious experience, but in his baptism (Gl. 3:27-29). Faith makes it his. Hence faith is not at the end of the way to God, as in Philo. It is at the beginning” (217).
Alan Richardson declared that faith “is confident reliance on God. It is the act by which he lays hold on God’s proffered resources, becomes obedient to what God prescribes, and, abandoning all self-interest and self-reliance, trusts God completely. . . . Obedience, conformity to what God prescribes, is the inevitable concomitant of believing” (75, 76).
The doctrine of salvation by “faith alone” does not have the support of Scripture. It has resulted from a sincere – but misguided – reaction to Roman Catholicism. Those who have embraced this philosophy should carefully restudy the question of salvation.
“Once Saved, Always Saved” (?)
1 Tim. 4:16 – After listing some of the things that Timothy must [NRSV] insist on and teach (4:11-4:15), Paul writes to him: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” – NRSV. [Emphasis added]. Although Paul believed Timothy was in a saved state at the moment, he did not consider it as something assured!
The Awake! Magazine covered this in a brief article:
The Bible’s View
Once Saved, Always Saved”—How Certain?
‘THE “Son of Sam” killer terrorized New York city residents for more than a year, killing six random victims and wounding several others. Yet the person accused of the crime reportedly had been “saved” at a church meeting about four years before his reign of terror began.
‘A former army friend of the suspect who had invited him to the church meeting relates that the new convert “came up to me grinning and laughing and saying, ‘Man, I’m saved.’ Then we came back that same day for the evening service and he went forward again at the invitation [to accept Christ]. He told me afterward that he just wanted to make sure it [being “saved”] took.”
Upon hearing the charges against this former member of her church, another member told the Associated Press: “I’m just thankful he was saved.” Why? She declared: “The Bible says, once saved, always saved.”—New York Post, August 25, 1977, p. 2.
‘Does the Bible actually say, “Once saved, always saved”? No, it does not use those words in any specific text, but many sincere people believe that this is what the Bible teaches. And it is true that a number of Bible texts indicate that the basis for salvation is not one’s works, but, rather, faith in Jesus Christ, together with God’s “grace” and mercy. (Eph. 2:8, 9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:4, 5) Additionally, Jesus himself said that “he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.”—John 3:36, Authorized Version (AV); 1 John 5:13.
‘From such references it is often reasoned that if one ‘has everlasting life,’ he actually possesses it
permanently; it cannot be lost, or, as many would have it: “Once saved, always saved.” However, does this understanding fully express the Scriptural view of gaining everlasting life?
‘Well, Christians concerned about their salvation may also wish to consider Jesus’ declaration that “
he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” (Matt. 10:22; 24:12, 13; Mark 13:13, AV) And the apostle Paul comments similarly: “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.”—Heb. 3:14, AV.
‘How are we to reconcile these seeming disparities? Surely these servants of God were not contradicting themselves. Rather, were they not merely expressing the same understanding from different viewpoints? The apostle Paul provides the key to harmonizing these viewpoints.
‘Time and again Paul likens the Christian’s course to a “race” that
must be run to the finish. “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us,” he urged the Hebrews. (12:1, AV) To enter the race, sinners must take the steps necessary for salvation: hearing and accepting the Word of God, believing in Jesus Christ and his ransom sacrifice, repenting of their sins and being baptized. In this way, they get saved “from this crooked generation,” as Peter exhorted those gathered at Pentecost. Unbelievers are outside the race, having failed to enter by getting “saved.”—Acts 2:37-40, Revised Standard Version (RSV); 16:31-33; Rom. 10:13, 14.
‘Once entered in the race by being “saved,” a Christian takes “hold of the life which is life indeed.” But is it possible to lose that grip on life? Paul answers with this question: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize?” In the Christian race, Paul indicates the “one” who receives the prize is anyone who finishes the race. Therefore, Paul urges, “
So run that you may obtain it.” Then, using himself as an example to make the point of his illustration, he continues: “I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”—1 Tim. 6:19; 1 Cor. 9:24-27, RSV.
‘Evidently the apostle, who surely was a “saved” Christian, believed that even he could be “disqualified” from the race. Yet as long as he continued to ‘run that he might obtain’ the prize, thus remaining in the race, salvation was assured. This is why Christians who remain in the race can be said to ‘have everlasting life.’ But if they should ever quit the race, they are “disqualified,” losing their hold on everlasting life.
‘Hence, Paul follows up his remarks on the Christian’s race by cautioning about the danger of overconfidence. Using the example of the Israelites who were saved through the Red Sea, yet fell to wrongdoing in the wilderness, he warned: “We [“saved” Christians] must not put the Lord to the test.” Then, driving his point home, he declared: “
Let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Yes, it could happen, even to “saved” ones!—1 Cor. 10:1-12, RSV.
‘This is why, throughout his writings, Paul consistently emphasized his own need to stay in the race. For example, of his hoped-for reward of the resurrection, he said: “
I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” It was only after Paul neared the end of his life that he wrote: “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” At this point in his life, he could finally say with confidence: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that Day.”—Phil. 3:11-14; 2 Tim. 4:6-8, RSV.
‘Paul’s view of his own salvation, then, is consistent with Jesus’ comments mentioned earlier about ‘enduring to the end’ to be saved.—See also Revelation 2:10; 3:11, 12, AV.
‘The foregoing helps us to see why Paul repeatedly entreated “saved” Christians to be on guard. Their everlasting salvation was still at stake. Addressing the obviously “saved” Hebrew Christians who had been “illuminated” and who had “endured a great fight of afflictions,” he warns: “
If we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” The sacrificial benefits that “saved” such persons, then, can be lost. Why? Because such a person “hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto [outraged, RSV] the Spirit of grace.”—Heb. 10:26-32, AV.
‘Yes, Christians who truly appreciate the salvation provided through Christ and God’s grace will not be overconfident. They will strive to remain in the race like Paul and the other early Christians, whom he encouraged to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling.”’—Phil. 2:12, AV.
Quoted from Awake! - pp. 27-28.
Paul’s “race for life” brings to mind Jesus’ “narrow road.” He said that only a few will even find the gate that leads onto the narrow, difficult path which leads to eternal life. He gave no guarantee even that once the path was found, the finder would actually stay on that difficult path that eventually leads to eternal life. – Matt. 7:13-14.
In fact, he indicated that many who evidently believed they were saved, were not even in consideration for everlasting life – Matt. 7:21-23.