In the Hebrew Bible, forms of the noun ʾĕmûnâ or the verb ʾmn are usually translated as “faith” or “having faith/believing.” Such faith can be expressed toward God (Jon. 3.5), toward a human being (Exod. 4.1–9), or toward both: “So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exod. 14.31). The terms are also used to express adherence to an idea or a set of principles, “I believe in your commandments” (Ps. 119.66).
There are other ways of expressing this kind of regard for or confidence in someone or something. In fact, forms of the verb btḥ are much more frequent in the Hebrew Bible but are usually translated “to trust” rather than “to have faith/believe.” This difference can be explained on the basis of semantic development, but there are some instances where the meanings are very close. “He [Hezekiah] trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel” (2 Kings 18.5).
One of the best‐known instances of faith in the Bible concerns Abram (Abraham), who asks how God would make of him a great nation when he was old and his wife was sterile. The Lord asserts that Abraham will indeed have offspring that will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. In response to this promise and against all tangible evidence, Abram has faith in God and is considered to be a righteous person (Gen. 15.6; NJV: “he put his trust in the Lord”).
Abram's willingness to trust God in this and other situations makes him a primary example of the biblical concept of faith. His willingness to believe and to obey God is the fulfillment of the covenant that God had made with him. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, Abraham's descendants struggle with the issue of how to continue as a faithful people. The Psalms rejoice in the faithfulness of God (Pss. 31.5; 111.7) but lament the lack of faith shown by the people (Ps. 78.8). Isaiah warns the people, “If you do not stand firm in faith you shall not stand at all” (Isa. 7.8), and Habakkuk states that “the righteous live by their faith” (2.4).
The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, usually translates the ʾmn family of words with a form of the Greek word pisteuein, “to trust” or “to believe/have faith.” This same family of words is used frequently in the New Testament. The author of the letter to the Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11.1) and then goes on to list the great deeds that the people of Israel had accomplished “by faith” (11.4–40).
Paul also makes use of images of faith from the Bible, especially the faith of Abraham. In the process of justifying the mission to the gentiles, Paul argues that Abraham was said to be righteous by having faith in God before he was circumcised and therefore is the father of the gentiles who believe, as well as of the Jews (Rom. 4; Gal. 3).
The actual content of faith—what is believed—is described in different ways in Paul's letters. In Romans, righteousness will be credited to those who have faith in God who raised Jesus (Rom. 4.24) and those who believe in their hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead will be saved (Rom. 10.9). Elsewhere Paul refers to believing “in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 2.16), but it can be argued that this is an abbreviation for “faith in God who raised Jesus.”
Several times Paul refers to faith with a grammatical construction that can be interpreted either as “faith in Christ” or “faith of Christ” (Gal. 2.16, 20; 3.22; Rom. 3.22, 26; Phil. 3.9). Scholarly debate centers on whether Jesus is referred to in the first sense as the object of faith or in the second as an example of faith. The NRSV translation includes footnotes that offer the latter reading as an alternative. It has also been suggested that Paul is being intentionally ambiguous with the construction, leaving both possibilities open. In this case it is interesting to note that later documents tend to specify “faith in Christ,” eliminating the possibility for ambiguity (e.g., 1 Tim. 3.13; Acts 20.21).
In the synoptic Gospels faith is the operative factor in many of Jesus' miracles. Jesus is impressed by the faith of the centurion and so heals his son (Matt. 8.5–13 par.). Jesus marvels at the faith of those who brought the paralytic man (Matt. 9.1–8 par.) and tells the woman with a hemorrhage that her faith has made her well (Matt. 9.20–22 par.). When Jesus tells the father of a demon‐possessed boy that “all things are possible to the one who believes/has faith,” the man responds “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9.23–24).
See also Justification.
Daniel N. Schowalter