Word of the Week
February 4, 2023
Pistis: Who Can I Trust?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness. Faith.
“Jump, honey! I’ll catch you.”
Every dad has shouted that line to a toddler teetering on the edge of the pool. Most of the time, little Sally or Tim take the plunge and leap into Dad’s arms. But some kids aren’t so sure. You can see their little brains whirring – Is he really going to catch me?
It’s a matter of trust – and trustworthiness.
Those are key issues in our relationship with God as well. That’s why “faith” features prominently in the Fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5.
There’s a puzzle connected to this word. In the traditional King James Version, the verse says “faith.” Other translations like the NASB, NIV, ESV or other modern Bibles say “faithfulness.
Faith means that I trust someone else.
Faithfulness means that other people can trust me.
The two ideas seem to be opposites, leaving me with the question, “Which idea is right?” To find the answers, we need to check out the Greek word in Paul’s original statement.
The Greek word that occurs here is pistis, a word that looms large in the New Testament, appearing 243 times! It is usually translated “faith” or “trust,” the confidence that trusts a person or believes a statement.
Faith is a crucial aspect of the Christian life:
- It is the gateway for salvation. We are justified by faith, not works (Romans 5:1). Go through the book of Acts and ask, “What must I do to be saved?” and the answer is usually, “Believe!” (Acts 16:31).
- It opened the way for healing for many who came to Christ in the Gospels (Matthew 8:10; 9:29; Mark 2:5).
- The shield of faith forms a vital part of the Christian’s spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:16).
- It is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).
- It forms part of the Big Three of Christian virtues: faith, hope and love (1 Thessalonians 1:3; Colossians 1:3-4; 1 Corinthians 13:13).
God requires faith from all, but He also gives a distinctive spiritual gift of faith to some believers, enabling them to display unquestioning confidence in the Lord’s power and provision (1 Corinthians 12:9). You might think of these people as specialists in trusting God.
Pistis most often has this active meaning of confidence in God that results in believing His word. It is more than intellectual assent. The toddler on the pool side would probably say that Dad can catch him, but it’s not genuine trust until he jumps.
There are times, however, when pistis has a different meaning. It can also refer to the thing you trust: the Christian faith. Jude appeals to his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). Paul preached “the faith which he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:23). See also Acts 6:7; 13:8; Galatians 6:10; Titus 1:4. It’s a description of the Christian doctrinal belief or the Christian movement.
Finally, pistis can sometimes be translated as “faithfulness.”
- “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you . . . have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).
- If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? (Romans 3:3).
- Not stealing, but showing all good faith[fulness] so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect (Titus 2:10).
What is the bottom line here? If I want the fruit of the Spirit to characterize my life, do I aim for faith or for faithfulness?
The King James translators had good reason to say “faith,” because that is by far the most common translation. On the other hand, “faithfulness” certainly fits the context of virtues that should mark our character.
Perhaps this is one of those times when we need both meanings to catch the full significance of the word. You see, genuine faith produces faithfulness. As James said, “Faith without works is dead.”
When you place your trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, something supernatural happens. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in your heart and begins the process of rewiring your personality, gradually reshaping you to be more like Jesus. Our cooperation is required, but God is the one who transforms us. In short, faith leads to increasing faithfulness – as well as the other fruit of the Spirit.
Make it your goal to be the kind of person who learns to trust God more deeply every year, more willing to jump into your Father’s arms when He says, “Jump!”
Faith is a massive subject, and the Greek study books devote many pages to it. You can lose yourself in the many passages that deal with it. To make things even more challenging – and intriguing – a full study should include the cognate words in the same word family: the verb pisteuō (“believe” – used 248 times) and the adjective pistos (“faithful, believing” – used 67 times). The basic definitions of all three words are similar. However, pistos usually means “faithful,” while pistis is usually “faith.”
Q: What is the difference between parakaleo and paramutheomai, which is translated “encourage the faint-hearted” in 1 Thessalonians 5:14? Are there any differences between the two words; they seem similar and any help with the nuances would be nice.
A: Parakaleō is a common word that means to encourage or exhort. You find it in verses like Romans 12:1 – “I urge you, brethren, . . . to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” When I think of parakaleō, I find it helpful to recall a prayer that my old pastor used to pray: “Lord, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”! Some people need a helpful shove to get moving; we might call that “encouragement.” Others might need someone to put an arm around them to help them keep going; that’s “comfort.” Parakaleo includes both of those ideas.
Paramutheomai only occurs four times in the New Testament, and it leans heavily toward the idea of comfort, tender treatment for the wounded. That’s definitely the idea in John 11:19, 31 with Lazarus. The other two uses in 1 Thessalonians 2:12 and 5:14 don’t necessarily describe people in grief, but I think it still suggests that you bring cheer and encouragement to someone, helping them to have heart again.
We are nearing the end of our “fruit inspection” and the next fruit on the tree is “gentleness” – a hard one for many of us. Let’s find out next week how to be gentle without being a wimp!
©Ezra Project 2023