Pistis Faith

This entire post is balderdash. Though the Scripture verses certainly stand, the scaffolding I’ve erected around them is made of store-brand Q-tips.

But I’ve got a purpose in it all. This post should be like the definition of metaphor I once read: you take two things and place them close together, hoping that a spark will jump across the gap and illuminate them both. But I’m not telling you what the other thing is! You’ll have to guess! The guess will create the spark!

So let’s see some comments. What’s the point of my balderdash? Can anyone make it even balder? What’s the main thing I’m trying to illuminate? Only regular readers will likely figure it out…

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"When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8 NASB)

The Greek word underlying the term "faith" in this verse is pistis, a word that denotes a faith in Christ without any modicum of physical sight. Pistis faith is a rich, doctrinal faith, because it’s the word Jude uses when he talks about "the faith once delivered to the saints." Faith, in fact, is not mere belief; it is doctrine.

"Faith" here is also not mere "trust." "Trust" (in Greek, peitho) is something anyone can have, Christian or not, because it is something based on evidence available to one’s physical sight. It was easy for Israel to "trust" in the military help of Egypt, for example, because Egypt’s army was a tangible entity that they could view with their own eyes (2 Kings 18:20–21, LXX). This kind of trust is a persuasion based on evidence. It is not saving, pistis faith.

Christians "walk by faith"—pistis faith—and "not by sight" (2 Cor 5:7). And pistis faith is something that only God’s children can have, because only they know the doctrine which pistis faith entails.

For example, when several men brought to Jesus a paralytic to be healed, He "saw their faith (pistis)," and He responded by saying, "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven." Jesus would not forgive the sins of someone who merely trusted in or was persuaded by the visible evidence that Jesus was a healer. The men who brought their friend to Jesus had pistis faith; they knew enough doctrine about Jesus—that He was Messiah, come to save them from their sins—that Jesus knew they had saving faith, doctrinal faith, pistis faith.

This is why Paul in Ephesians 2:8 can say that we are saved "through faith." Pistis faith is absolutely essential for salvation. Mere evidence-based "trust" alone would never be enough to save someone. And this verse reveals something else important about pistis faith: it is “a gift,” something divine in origin.

Without pistis faith, it is impossible to please God, says Hebrews 11:6. And that verse adds something very important to our understanding. It says that pistis faith is "necessary" (Greek: dei). The world is happy to "trust" in what it sees, but it is necessary for Christians to have doctrinal faith without sight, pistis faith.

*Stay tuned for the next post in this series, “Elpis Hope.”*

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

3 thoughts on “Pistis Faith”

  1. It is indeed balderdash, as you’re suggesting, to add a Greek/Hebrew transliteration to a normal word to make it “special.” Facing a modern resurgence of the old “Holy Ghost Greek” fallacy perhaps? If I’m reading you rightly, you’re making a point about adding the word αγαπη to “love” in a way that makes us treat “love” in an over-spiritualized way (divorced from the ordinary pre-NT sense of the word). I admit, I’ve not heard much preaching that acknowledges any koine meaning for αγαπη. Everyone goes straight to John 3, Rom. 5, etc., and gives the “biblical” explanation. Shall we expect a chapter in your dissertation on the pre-NT or extra-biblical use of αγαπη?

    But enough agreement! I’d gently suggest that you might be making a mildly illegitimate comparison between αγαπη love and πιστις faith (unless there’s something sparking that I’ve not noticed yet). With multiple Greek words translated “love,” adding the transliteration is helpful for the sake of distinguishing synonyms (where synonyms can be distinguished legitmately!). Faith (to my knowledge) doesn’t represent a field of synonymy that broad; thus πιστις faith is (almost) inherently redundant.

  2. Ah, James, but my view* accounts for the two major “faith” synonyms. You can have pistis faith or peitho faith.* There’s no doubt that the two overlap somewhat, but their fundamental character is quite different.*

    Pistis was a little-used word* before the New Testament writers picked it up, polished it off, and invested it with spiritual significance.*

    Ok, back to the real me: what you say about the helpfulness of distinguishing Greek synonyms is totally true—but then your next question must come into play: how often can they be distinguished legitimately? Even “eros” is used in Koine sentences like this (according to B. B. Warfield): “There is nothing dearer (ἥδιον) to children than their mother: love (ἐρᾷτε) your mother, children. There is no other love (ἔρως) so sweet as this loving (ἐρᾶν).”

    *balderdash

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