A discussion of Eph. 1:15 elsewhere has raised what is to me a novel question: What does Scripture mean by "the faith"? At first sight the answer is simple enough: the sort of faith that Abraham had and which was accounted to him as equivalent to righteousness. After thorough and careful consideration, I still think that, basically, this is the answer; but with qualifications, as there is more in the matter than meets the eye. Certainly it is true for the bulk of the passages which speak of "the faith."
The first occurrence of pistis, faith is Matt. 8:10, in the account of the healing of the centurion's boy at Capernaum. Of the centurion, the Lord Jesus says: "Verily, I am saying to you, with no one in Israel I found so much faith. Now I am saying to you that many from east and west shall be arriving, and shall be reclining with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of the heavens; yet the sons of the Kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness." Here the faith is that of a Gentile and is specifically associated with Abraham, who first believed God as a Gentile. This sets the pattern, not only in Matthew, but in Romans and throughout the Greek Scriptures.
The first occurrence of the faith soon follows, in Matt. 9:2 (literally, the faith of them). It is the same faith as the centurion's; but, this time, it was in some of the people of the Lord's own city; and a special feature of the account is the pardon of sins. The next is in Matt. 9:22, reading very literally: "the faith of you has saved you," thus bringing up another aspect of what "the faith" can do. Yet another is when the two blind men are healed (Matt. 9:27-31). Here we get a somewhat different form of words, very literally: "according to the faith of you let it be becoming to you," or, idiomatically, "according to that faith of yours, let it occur to you." This form is rare. Titus 1:1 has, literally: "according to faith of chosen ones of God." Titus 1:4 has "according to common faith." Heb. 11:7, literally, "of the according-to-faith righteousness," that is, "of the righteousness according to faith," and Heb. 11:13; "according to faith died all these." In these, as elsewhere, the underlying notion is some standard of comparison, stated or implied.
The last such reference to "the faith" in Matthew is where the Lord Jesus says to the Canaanitish woman: "0 woman, great is the faith of you" or idiomatically, "that faith of yours." Again it is a Gentile's faith as Abraham's was. Finally, there is the Lord's denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees for leaving the weightier matters of the Law: "the judging, the mercy and the faith." Here, the approach is from their point of view, so the judging comes first; but it was the faith that their actions should have led up to, and which they grossly neglected.
Turning now, to another beginning—that of God's Evangel and the aspect of it which is Paul's Evangel—in Romans. In the Preface, the Apostle Paul sets out the grace and apostleship which he obtained "into obedience of faith among all the Gentiles" (1:5). This theme he developes in the first four chapters; and at the very start he thanks God that the faith that they have is being announced in the whole world (1:8) and speaks of the faith that both he and they have (1:12) and he strikes the keynote of God's Evangel in 1:17 in which "faith" occurs three times (concerning the Evangel): "For in it God's righteousness is unveiling out of faith into faith, according as it is written: 'Now the righteous out of faith will be getting life.'" The quotation is from Habakkuk 2:4. Paul presently turns to Abraham; but first he emphasises the point that the faith of the one who is believing as Abraham did is reckoned as equivalent to righteousness (4:3). The faith of Abraham appears again in 4:9, 11, 12 (of the faith in uncircumcision), 13 (righteousness of faith), 14, 16 ("out of faith" and "out of Abraham's faith"), 19, 20. Right through, what is envisaged is the faith, the kind of faith Abraham had.
The same idea permeates Galatians, where Hab. 2:4 is again quoted (Gal. 3:11); and we find it once more in the Hebrews Epistle, in which Chap. 11 starts with a definition of faith, followed by a series of examples of it. Yet we misread this if we hold to the man-made chapter divisions and fail to observe that the real start is in Heb. 10:35. Here, faith is regarded from the Hebrew point of view; and properly, since the epistle is addressed "to Hebrews." For the third time Hab. 2:4 is quoted, underlining the fact, which never should have been lost sight of, that this foundation truth about "the faith" belongs to all God's people and is universally true from start to finish in His dealings with humanity, without exception. By way of illustration we have, first, Abel; then Enoch; then Noah; then at considerable length, Abraham and Sarah. This in turn underlines the fact that Abraham was not the first of the Gentiles to be made righteous, or put right, out of faith, but actually the fourth in this list. In the face of all this, it is a great mystery how anyone could ever have imagined that righteousness out of faith should be a doctrine special to Paul's teaching for this present time.
In this wonderful series of heroes of faith, they are finally spoken of as having "been attested through the faith" (Heb. 11:39)—the faith of all of them. Yet in my discussion of Eph. 1:1-12 I found myself having to consider the idea that the Ephesians had" their own special faith," the faith which was according to standards laid down for them in contrast to the faith which is "for all the saints." In stating this strange idea, A.E.K. wrote of "the faith" as "that peculiar body of truth which was theirs to receive." Whether that idea is tenable in the context of Eph. 1:15 was discussed in the paper, and rejected; but now we must examine the issue as it arises elsewhere. At first sight Acts 6:7 might be cited: "Besides, a vast throng of priests obeyed the faith." This, however, is a "howler"; for tE pistei is Dative, not Accusative, and means to the faith. Read "as to the faith" or "as regards the faith," namely, the faith of which Stephen was full (v. 5). Elymas, the Magician, was seeking to pervert the proconsul from the faith (13:8), that is, the faith displayed by Stephen and Barnabas (11:24), not from any specified body of doctrine, unless in the general sense, the Word of God (13:7). The same applies to where Paul and Barnabas entreated the disciples to continue as to the faith (14:22). The assemblies were given solidity as to the faith (16:5), a statement which looks forward to Romans 1 to 4. "Felix. . . . sends after Paul and hears of him about the faith into Christ Jesus" (24:24). Clearly, there is a case for con fining all these to the primary sense of faith, though, as we shall see presently, it is not wholly convincing.
Turning to the epistles, the one who was infirm as to the faith (Rom. 14:1), did not mean one whose knowledge and understanding of the truth were faulty so much as one whose faith in the truth was shaky. "Stand firm in the faith" (1. Cor. 16:13) means just what it says, and not simply that Paul's readers were to hold firmly to some body of truth. Similarly, in 2. Cor. 13:5 the issue is faith, not only knowledge, though that is included. All this has been put in a rather tentative way because, when I started, I held the view that it was a mistake to regard "the faith" as in any sense a body of truth; but presently I began to see that the facts were against me. In several of the foregoing passages "the faith" can fairly be taken as not only belief itself but also as implying the doctrine involved in Abraham's faith. No one can simply "believe," just that and nothing more; one has to believe something or, in a slightly different shade of meaning of "believe," somebody. Abraham believes God, also he believes what God has said. Similarly, we believe God, in believing what He disclosed to us through Paul in his Evangel. So "the faith" must be taken as meaning not only "belief" but "what is believed." The actual scope of the latter must depend on the context whenever "the faith" is used. In fact, the onus of proof is on anyone who would try to separate the two usages.
Eph. 4:3-6 directs our attention to the unity of the spirit in the tie of the peace, that is, the peace thrice referred to in Eph. 2:14-17, where we find "making one," "one new humanity," "one body." In the seven-fold unity is "one faith." Also, Eph. 4:13, speaking of "upbuilding of the body of Christ," says that this should be directed "into" a certain aim, namely, "that we should be attaining, the whole lot of us, into the unity of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, into mature manhood, into adult stature of the fullness of the Christ." Now, it is hard to see how, here, "the faith" can mean anything other than the fullness of belief that we ought to have in consequence of that faith in Christ Jesus which we had in believing Paul's Evangel. If we all had that fullness of belief, we would necessarily have that unity, which is the only sort of unity of any worth at all. The "reunion" of which we hear so much nowadays is not reunion on the basis of oneness of faith but of oneness of expediency. In all the speeches and writings now current about reunion this purpose stands out, once we strip away the carefully woven veil of verbiage and jargon. Instead, the true unity comes about, first, in the faith that Abraham had, which is the only gateway to it; and then in the other things, beginning with full knowledge of the Son of God, which alone can make the faith complete. So, in this sort of context, "the faith" implies the full evangel of the Apostle Paul.
This, too, brings out vividly that for us there is one faith and one only; and in so doing kills any idea that Eph. 1:15 refers to two faiths, one for us alone, one for all the saints. The latter, by the essential meaning of "all," must include ourselves. The faith for us is one, not two.
In Phil. 1:27 the Apostle Paul urges his readers "to be standing firm in one spirit (with one soul competing together) as to the faith of the Evangel." This expression appears nowhere else, and "faith" and "evangel" come into proximity only in Col. 1:23 and 1. Thess. 3:2. On the other hand, "the truth of the evangel" occurs in Gal. 2:5, 14 and "truth" and "evangel" are in close proximity in Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5, the connection in these being more objective and personal than that of the other pair. The truth of the Evangel is something that has to be sought and, when found, defended by us as vigorously as it was defended by Paul. He was quite uncompromising in this defence, and so we too ought to be. The faith of the Evangel is, however, something much more personal to ourselves. There should be something competitive in furthering it; but that should be a matter of friendly rivalry, not vigorous polemic or requirement to withstand anyone to the face. For faith is by its very nature a personal, private affair. One either has faith or one lacks it. There can be no faith in the Scripture sense apart from the truth. The truth is something objective, outside the self, given by God; but once it is given, the faith receives it or the unbelief rejects it. This means that furthering the faith of the Evangel is a twofold operation: unveiling the truth to another person and helping that person to accept it and believe it. That is a thing that can be done only by the person who is confronted by the truth, and then only if granted faith by God. Thus, "the faith" in this sense, that is, "of the Evangel" is in essence free and willing acceptance of the truth of the Evangel; and this necessarily means that it must include the truth of the Evangel. This becomes easier to understand if we keep in mind that the core of the Evangel actually is faith and study the three great concentrations of the word: in Romans 3 and 4, Galatians 3 and Hebrews 11.
The core of the Evangel? Yes, and in the widest sense; for it is plain from Rom. 4:9-12 that Abraham, to whom faith is reckoned as equivalent to righteousness, is both father of all those believing throughout uncircumcision and father of circumcision. The emphasis in Romans is on his fatherhood of the former, and far too many of us have confined their attention to that; nevertheless Abraham is father of circumcision also. Consequently, Abraham is father of the Evangel entrusted to the Apostle Peter, that of the circumcision. That is the consideration lying behind the grand "Roll of Honour" in Hebrews 11, though this epistle does not contain either word, because it belongs to this present period (Heb. 9:9) during which neither of them is anything (Gal. 6:15). Paul had to withstand Peter to the face, not because he was incorrect in his attitude toward the truth of the Evangel of the circumcision but toward the truth of the Evangel of the uncircumcision. Yet that affords us no justification at all for being incorrect in our attitude toward the truth of the Evangel of the circumcision: in fact, we cannot properly understand our own Evangel until we properly under stand Peter's and appreciate that the core of both is the faith, the faith exemplified by Abraham in uncircumcision. Both Israel in days to come, and we ourselves now, need to stand firm in one spirit as to the faith of the Evangel. In this connection, though by no means in others, the point is that theirs is an Evangel of covenant and ours is not. And it is in Philippians, where alone occurs "the faith of the Evangel," that Paul chooses to make his great summing-up of the doctrine of Romans (Phil. 3:4-11).
Colossians is the third of the Prison Epistles to churches, and here Paul clinches the point twice: "If surely you are persisting as to the faith, having become grounded, and settled, and not having become removed from the expectation of the Evangel" (1:23) and "confirmed in the faith" (2:7).
In 2. Thess. 2:13, after the terrible prophecy of the un veiling and destruction of the man of sin, Paul turns to thanking God for the Thessalonians: "seeing that God prefers you from (the) beginning, into salvation, in hallowing of spirit and faith of truth, into which He also calls us through the Evangel of ours." Though "faith" is here without the Article, the testimony is basically the same.
"The faith" In the sense of truth that is to be believed is: found also in 1. Tim. 1:19: "some... have made shipwreck round about the faith"; 3:9, "having the secret of the faith in clear conscience"; 3:13, somewhat different, "procuring. . . much boldness in faith—the (faith) in Christ Jesus"; 4:1, "some will be standing away from the faith"; 4:6, "fostering with the words of the faith and of the ideal teaching which you have fully followed"; 5:8, "he has disowned the faith and is worse than unbeliever." This is said of "anyone not providing for his own, and especially his family."
How badly this last precept is needed in the modern world! The notion that our first responsibility in human relations is to our own is almost universally flouted and set aside in favour of the "liberal" idea that other people outside our own circle or community have prior claim on us and on our care. Almost everywhere is this hailed, even lauded, as "the Christian standpoint"; whereas, in fact, it is utter negation of the Evangel and is working untold harm in the world. The principles of the Kingdom operate only within the Kingdom. Paul's teaching for a church which is Christ's body operates only for members of the body; but nowadays most preachers assume, when they do not actually state, that all humanity are members of the body and should be treated by us as such.
This assumption lies behind what is written in the next occurrence of "the faith" in 1. Timothy, namely, 6:10: "For root of all the evils is the fondness of money, for which, some, craving, were led astray from the faith, and themselves probe about with many pains." That, indeed, is what it all amounts. to, if we put our faith in "money" and the thought of the power and influence that it buys, for that is with most unbelievers the real importance of money.
But Paul's answer follows immediately, in 1. Tim. 6:12: "Be contending the ideal contest of the faith." Last, in 6:21: "Round about the faith they swerve." A similar expression to. this last presents itself in 2. Tim. 2:18, where Paul writes of the word of profane prattlings, giving as example" Hymeneus and Philetus, who swerve round about the truth, and are subverting the faith of some." In the former, false knowledge causes some to swerve round about the faith. The failure is more a personal one, for faith is a personal thing. In the latter, truth itself is eaten away as with a gangrene, and it is the vital truth of the' resurrection that is the main victim.
The contrast appears more clearly in 2. Tim. 3:8, where those who are "withstanding the truth" are declared to be "men depraved (in) the mind, disqualified concerning the faith." There is a very searching and profound lesson in this. To withstand the truth is effectually to disqualify oneself from the faith. Those who sin thus simply cannot believe God, they have shut themselves off from the faith, which basically is the sort or faith Abraham had. By contrast, we read presently Paul's triumphant affirmation: "The ideal contest, I have contended; the active service, I have finished; the faith, I have kept." (2. Tim. 4:7).
In Paul's Epistle to Titus is a precept which would bring dismay to those who complain whenever false teaching is exposed, did such people ever trouble to read mark and learn any teaching that causes them discomfiture. For here he ruthlessly exposes those "who are subverting whole households, teaching what things ought not (to be taught), for sordid gain." He cites the Cretans for example, and adds: "For which cause be thou exposing them severely, that they may be sound in the faith, not paying heed to Jewish myths and precepts of men who are turning from the truth." (Titus 1:10-14).
Thus Paul; nevertheless, few follow his precept. Instead, most turn their severity on to those few, and scorn them as railers and disturbers of the peace. Yet we have reached a period in world-history when Paul's words matter as they have never mattered before, when faithfulness is God's first requirement of His people, when this requirement is put last by the majority of those who regard themselves as His people. At this hour of all others, to neglect this duty of courageous faithfulness is to betray Him Who was ever faithful, even unto death.
Then Paul proceeds from the general to the particular, urging "aged men to be sober, grave, sane, sound as to the faith, to the love, to the endurance," to be very literal. Finally, in his epistle to Philemon he praises him for the love of his and "the faith which he has toward the Lord Jesus and into all the saints." And Paul is praying concerning Philemon "so that the fellowship of the faith of yours may be becoming operative in full-knowledge of every good thing, into Christ Jesus" (Philem. 5, 6). That prayer fitly sums-up what he requires of us, too.
Now we may turn to the Hebrews Epistle. In it, the first occurrence of "the faith" is crucial (4:2). As might be expected, the keynote is Israel's failure because of unbelief to enter into the promised Land (3:19), so that: "For we also have been evangelized, even as they; but the word of the hearing does not benefit them, (they) not having blended together, as to the faith, with those hearing." This is clumsy in English, and the passage has been the ground of much controversy. The rendering above is based on the C. V. Greek text; but there is good authority for an alternative reading which would make us substitute the interpolation (necessary in English) of "(it)" instead of "(they)" so that "not having blended. . . ." would refer to "the word." Thus, the point is that the Word of God is, to any individual person, valueless to him unless his hearing of it is blended together with the faith, that is to say, the sort of faith that Abraham had and the whole system of truth involved in that faith.
The epistle goes on to say much about faith, but the faith does not appear again till 11:39. Here is a translation problem, for in this chapter are the only occurrences of martureO in the Passive Voice—three of them. Heb. 11:2 should read "for thereby well-attested were the elders"; 11:4; "through which he was attested to be righteous." 11:39; "And these all, being attested through the faith, are not requited with the promise of God—concerning us to something better looking forward, that apart from us they may not be perfected." This is another difficult passage, but the Greek definitely reads tou theou, of the God; so we cannot read it as if it were simply "God" here. However, the point for us at the moment is that the attestation of "these all" was through the faith, full faith in what God had revealed, in His truth.
In James' Epistle we find" the faith of the Lord of us, Jesus Christ" (literally) in James 2:1; otherwise, by ordinary usage, "the faith" must mean faith as already referred to in its Context. The same applies to 1. Peter 1:7, 9, 21; 2. Peter 1:5; 1. John 5:4; but 1. Peter 5:9: "solid in the faith" plainly has the wider meaning we have found elsewhere, as also in Jude 3 and 20. These last are the only occurrences of the word in this epistle; and both must mean a system of doctrine which is to be believed.
From all this, one thing emerges plainly: the idea of "the faith" as a body or system of truth that ought to be believed, appears most definitely in Paul's later epistles and in Jude (see previous comments on this epistle). Yet this is only to be expected, for until a system of truth exists in concrete form, it cannot be accepted and believed as a system of truth. This fact is widely ignored, especially by those who build a theological system on only a partial understanding of Scripture or even on a mis understanding of it. Such people tend to force everything else into compliance with their system instead of moderating their system to conform with fresh light as it is received and apprehended, which is obviously the only sound way.
From this, another thing, emerges. In all of these "the faith" is seen as developing from its original form, faith such as Abraham displayed, as a plant developes from its seed. That is the basis, the system of belief is the superstructure built thereon. Moreover, such development occurs in all the saints. The basis, Abraham's faith, is identical. The superstructure is identical, except in so far as it is modified by the circumstances of the believer, whether like ourselves he is free from covenant obligations, or whether as Israel will be in days to come he is one or God's Covenant People.
"Except." Yes, this word creates a chasm during the eons. It is the essence of the truth in what is called "dispensational truth." If we attempt to ignore it, the result is complete chaos in our thinking and hopeless confusion in our conduct. Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the fact that what we have in common with those who, in those future days, will believe God under covenant, is, even now, more extensive than that which separates us, and will in the ultimate new humanity, vanish in the beams of its glory.
R.B.W.Last updated 4.5.2006