Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the Old Testament


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I. Opening Statement

It needs to be stated that the use of this theological concept, so crucial to the NT, is not as clearly defined in the OT. It is surely there, but demonstrated in key selected passages and persons.

The OT blends

A. the individual and the community

B. the personal encounter and covenant obedience

Faith is both personal encounter and daily lifestyle! It is easier to describe in the life of a faithful follower than in a lexical form (i.e., word study). This personal aspect is best illustrated in

A. Abraham and his seed

B. David and Israel

These men met/encountered God and their lives were permanently changed (not perfect lives, but continuing faith). Testing revealed weaknesses and strengths of their faith encounter with God, but the intimate, trusting relationship continued through time! It was tested and refined, but it continued as evidenced by their devotion and lifestyle.

II. Main root used

A. אמן (BDB 52, KB 63)

1. verb

a. Qal stem – to support, to nourish (i.e., 2 Kgs. 10:1,5; Esther 2:7, the non-theological usage)

b. Niphal stem – to make sure or firm, to establish, to confirm, to be faithful or trustworthy

(1) of men, Isa. 8:2; 53:1; Jer. 40:14

(2) of things, Isa. 22:23

(3) of God, Deut. 7:9; Isa. 49:7; Jer. 42:5

c. Hiphil stem – to stand firm, to believe, to trust

(1) Abraham believed God, Gen. 15:6

(2) the Israelites in Egypt believed, Exod. 4:31; 14:31 (negated in Deut. 1:32)

(3) Israelites believed YHWH spoke through Moses, Exod. 19:9; Ps. 106:12,24

(4) Ahaz did not trust in God, Isa 7:9

(5) whoever believes in it/him, Isa. 28:16

(6) believe truths about God, Isa. 43:10-12

2. noun (masculine) – faithfulness (i.e., Deut. 32:20; Isa. 25:1; 26:2)

3. adverb – truly, verily, I agree, may it be so (cf. Deut. 27:15-26; 1 Kgs. 1:36; 1 Chr. 16:36; Isa. 65:16; Jer. 11:5; 28:6). This is the liturgical use of "amen" in the OT and NT.

B. אמת (BDB 54, KB 68) feminine noun, firmness, faithfulness, truth

1. of men, Isa. 10:20; 42:3; 48:1

2. of God, Exod. 34:6; Ps. 117:2; Isa. 38:18,19; 61:8

3. of truth, Deut. 32:4; 1 Kgs. 22:16; Ps. 33:4; 98:3; 100:5; 119:30; Jer. 9:5; Zech. 8:16

C. אמונה (BDB 53, KB 62), firmness, steadfastness, fidelity

1. of hands, Exod. 17:12

2. of times, Isa. 33:6

3. of humans, Jer. 5:3; 7:28; 9:2

4. of God, Ps. 40:11; 88:11; 89:1,2,5,8; 119:138

III. Paul’s use of this OT concept

A. Paul bases his new understanding of YHWH and the OT on his personal encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-16; 26:9-18).

B. He found OT support for his new understanding in two key OT passages which use the root (אמן).

1. Gen. 15:6 – Abram’s personal encounter initiated by God (Genesis 12) resulted in an obedient life of faith (Genesis 12-22). Paul alludes to this in Romans 4 and Galatians 3.

2. Isa. 28:16 – those who believe in it (i.e., God’s tested and firmly placed cornerstone) will never be

a. Rom. 9:33, "put to shame" or "be disappointed"

b. Rom. 10:11, same as above

3. Hab. 2:4 – those who know the faithful God should live faithful lives (cf. Jer. 7:28). Paul uses this text in Rom. 1:17 and Gal. 3:11 (also note Heb. 10:38).

IV. Peter’s use of the OT concept

A. Peter combines

1. Isa. 8:14 – 1 Pet. 2:8 (stumbling block)

2. Isa. 28:16 – 1 Pet. 2:6 (cornerstone)

3. Ps. 118:22 – 1 Pet 2:7 (rejected stone)

B. He turns the unique language that describes Israel, "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession" from

1. Deut. 10:15; Isa. 43:21

2. Isa. 61:6; 66:21

3. Exod. 19:6; Deut. 7:6

and now uses it for the church’s faith in Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 2;5,9

V. John’s use of the concept

A. Its NT usage

The term "believed" is from the Greek term pisteuō. which can also be translated "believe," "faith," or "trust." For example, the noun does not occur in the Gospel of John, but the verb is used often. In John 2:23-25 there is uncertainty as to the genuineness of the crowd’s commitment to Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Other examples of this superficial use of the term "believe" are in John 8:31-59 and Acts 8:13, 18-24. True biblical faith is more than an initial response. It must be followed by a process of discipleship (cf. Matt. 13:20-22,31-32).

B. Its use with prepositions

1. eis means "into." This unique construction emphasizes believers putting their trust/faith in Jesus

a. into His name (John 1:12; 2:23; 3:18; 1 John 5:13)

b. into Him (John 2:11; 3:15,18; 4:39; 6:40; 7:5,31,39,48; 8:30; 9:36; 10:42; 11:45 48; 12:37,42; Matt. 18:6; Acts 10:43; Phil. 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:8)

c. into Me (John 6:35; 7:38; 11:25,26; 12:44,46; 14:1,12; 16:9; 17:20)

d. into the Son (John 3:36; 9:35; 1 John 5:10)

e. into Jesus (John 12:11; Acts 19:4; Gal. 2:16)

f. into Light (John 12:36)

g. into God (John 14:1)

2. ev means "in" as in John 3:15; Mark 1:15; Acts 5:14

3. epi means "in" or "upon," as in Matt. 27:42; Acts 9:42; 11:17; 16:31; 22:19; Rom. 4:5, 24; 9:33; 10:11; 1 Tim. 1:16; 1 Pet. 2:6

4. the dative case with no preposition as in Gal. 3:6; Acts 18:8; 27:25; 1 John 3:23; 5:10

5. hoti, which means "believe that," gives content as to what to believe

a. Jesus is the Holy One of God (John 6:69)

b. Jesus is the I Am (John 8:24)

c. Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Him (John 10:38)

d. Jesus is the Messiah (John 11:27; 20:31)

e. Jesus is the Son of God (John 11:27; 20:31)

f. Jesus was sent by the Father (John 11:42; 17:8,21)

g. Jesus is one with the Father (John 14:10-11)

h. Jesus came from the Father (John 16:27,30)

i. Jesus identified Himself in the covenant name of the Father, "I Am" (John 8:24; 13:19)

j. We will live with Him (Rom. 6:8)

k. Jesus died and rose again (1 Thess. 4:14)

VI. Conclusion

A. Biblical faith is the human response to a divine word/promise. God always initiates (i.e., John 6:44,65), but part of this divine communication is the need for humans to respond (i.e., see SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT).

1. repentance

2. faith/trust

3. obedience

4. perseverance

B. Biblical faith is

1. a personal relationship (initial faith)

2. an affirmation of biblical truth (faith in God’s revelation, i.e., Scripture)

3. an appropriate obedient response to it (daily faithfulness)

Biblical faith is not a ticket to heaven or an insurance policy. It is a personal relationship. This is the purpose of creation, humans being made in the image and likeness (cf. Gen. 1:26-27) of God. The issue is "intimacy." God desires fellowship, not a certain theological standing! But fellowship with a holy God demands that the children demonstrate the "family" characteristics (i.e., holiness, cf. Lev. 19:2; Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). The Fall (cf. Genesis 3) affected our ability to respond appropriately. Therefore, God acted on our behalf (cf. Ezek. 36:27-38), giving us a "new heart" and a "new spirit," which enables us through faith and repentance to fellowship with Him and obey Him!

All three are crucial. All three must be maintained. The goal is to know God (both Hebrew and Greek senses) and to reflect His character in our lives. The goal of faith is not heaven someday, but Christlikeness every day!

C. Human faithfulness is the result (NT), not the basis (OT) for a relationship with God: human’s faith in His faithfulness; human’s trust in His trustworthiness. The heart of the NT view of salvation is that humans must respond initially and continually to the grace and mercy of God, demonstrated in Christ. He has loved, He has sent, He has provided; we must respond in faith and faithfulness (cf. Eph. 2:8-9 and 10)!

The faithful God wants a faithful people to reveal Himself to a faithless world and bring them to personal faith in Him.
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