(Image courtesy Wikiart)
By Spencer D Gear PhD
Visit an Internet Christian forum and start a topic, “Faith is not the same as belief,” and watch the reaction.
I came in late when I participated in a discussion on the topic, “The Good News/The Bad News” (christianforums.net), where I read these kinds of statements:
1. Are belief and faith the same?
I may be wrong in my assessment of your position, but it seems that you [Fastfredy0] are saying believing and faith are the same, nothing could be further from the truth.
Faith is a noun and comes to us when God speaks to us, whether directly as in Genesis 12, or indirectly through those He sends to preach the Gospel.
Believe on the other hand is a verb and is what we must to do in response to the Gospel message. Believe carries the idea of obey, which is why we se some passages say believe the Gospel, while others say obey the Gospel.
Do we agree on this or disagree?
The cause of faith is God. Faith is what we receive from God when He speaks to us. See Hebrews 11.
However, what causes faith to be activated, and be complete and able to produce the intended divine result is believing and therefore obeying; the obedience of faith?
When faith comes to us from God, because we hear Him speak to us, it is dormant and incomplete and must be activated or made alive by our obedience, our corresponding action of obedience.
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? James 2:21-22
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
- by works faith was made perfect?
Perfect here means complete.
The work that James is referring to is obedience to the word from God, by which Abraham received faith, which was to offer his son Isaac on the altar.
Do we agree or disagree?
Part of Fastfredy0’s response was: “According to https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/belief-believe.html … belief/believe is the same as faith per the first bible dictionary I looked up.”
· Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology /
· Belief, Believe
So JLB sees faith and believe as different while Fredy considers them to be the same. This has been my view but I’m open to a different interpretation if there is biblical evidence.
2. Why go to Bible dictionaries?
“Why do we need another definition of faith, other than the definition the Bible gives? Please answer my question.”
But the question remains, why do we look to Bible dictionaries written by men for the definition of a word when the Bible defines that word for us?
Can‘t we agree on the definition that the Bible gives us?
Faith comes to us from God, and is the substance of the thing hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.
My response was:
Your post raises a few issues for me:
Don’t you realise that we would not have translations into English or any other language if it were not for experts/scholars/professional linguists who knew the original languages? Have you ever looked at the translation committees for the KJV, ESV, NASB, NIV, NLT and NRSV? You should be staggered to know how knowledgeable these linguists were of the original languages. They are human beings. What?
The Bible doesn’t give us the meaning of many verses. It simply gives us a basic translation. As we’ve found in this thread, the nuances of Eph 2:8-9 (ESV) are not clear from a basic reading of the text. It needs exegesis and the use of exegetical Greek aids from leading Greek commentators and Bible lexicons/dictionaries. I would not be able to exegete from the Greek if I didn’t study introductory Greek under Dr Larry Hurtado, Regent College, Vancouver BC, Canada, using J W Wenham’s, Elements of New Testament Greek, and in completing my BA in biblical literature and NT Greek at Northwest University, Kirkland WA, I used Dana & Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (available free online as pdf).
- I would not have grasped basic NT Greek if it were not for my Greek teachers who taught me. Believe it or not, they were men. I learned Greek from – shock horror – men who were God’s gift to the body of Christ.
- All Bible translations were translated by men and women. Does that bother you?
Many times the Bible doesn’t define a word for us. That influenced Richard Trench to research and publish his book, The Synonyms of the New Testament (available online). By reading the English Bible alone, how will you differentiate among the three Greek words for love? What’s the difference in meaning for the “word” translated from logos or rhema? There are 3 Greek words for “hell”. What are the words and what are their differences in meaning? There are a few different words for “heaven”. What are the differences in meaning?
Your position, in my view, demeans God’s gift of teacher for the benefit of the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-12 ESV).
- I can’t agree with you on “the definition that the Bible gives us” for a word. I find that to be a naive point of view as the Bible does not define all words. It translates them but exegesis is needed to get to the root meaning of some words.
I recommend the article by I Howard Marshall, “The Problem of New Testament Exegesis (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society).”
JLB doesn’t give up: “When the Bible gives us the meaning of a word, especially an important word like faith, can’t we all agree this is the meaning that God intended for us to use?” He continued his rave against God’s gift of Bible teachers:
Because Bible teachers are so desperately needed in this time of so much false doctrine, we should all be in agreement when the Bible defines a word for us, and we should use that definition rather than some commentary definition.
Are you are there is a difference between teaching scripture and teaching man’s commentaries?
The Pharisees taught commentary, a mixture of scripture and Talmud, and tradition. They ended up murdering Jesus who taught pure truth.
To this I responded:
I’ve already answered you in #304.
I agree that the fundamental definition of faith is in Heb 11:1 (ESV): “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
This verse involves intellectual assent to the facts of faith and trust (a conviction) in the facts.
How will you know the difference between the faith of Heb 11:1 (ESV) and the faith of James 2:19 (ESV): “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe [have faith]—and shudder!”
What did I write at #304?
I happen to believe in exegesis of the text and that means digging into the etymology of words, grammar, and syntax of the Greek language. You may be able to find that information from a plain reading of the text. I can’t. I don’t want a simplistic reading of the text.
I cited from the most extensive word studies ever produced, Kittel & Friedrich’s (eds) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.
I go to Bible Lexicons and Theological Dictionaries to better understand the meaning and etymology of words.
This poster jumped in with a helpful comment:
I think your (sic) misunderstanding.
The Bible was not written in English. Faith is an English word that was translated from a foreign language.
Studying the original language helps to better understand the text.
A servant is not above its master. If God declared His word in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, then English is serving those languages.
To raise the English language above the original tongues of those whom the Holy Spirit imparted God’s Word is to cause the master to become the servant.
JLB can’t tolerate that kind of challenge. He wrote:
Of course I never said we are to raise the English language above the original language. What I am saying is, when the bible defines for us what a word means, then to refer to commentaries to validate a different definition is a recipe for division.
Believe and faith are two different words and should not be used interchangeably.
Again, this poster is pushing his idiosyncratic theology of faith and believing not being used interchangeably. That may be the case, but at this stage of my study and writing my article, based on my understanding of the Greek language, that is not the case. I’m tentative in saying they are synonyms.
JLB’s problem, in my view, is that he doesn’t know how to exegete words and grammar in Greek and Hebrew, so he resorts to English giving him the correct meaning when it can’t give him the differences in meaning for several Greek words such as faith/believe, love, hell, word, etc.
The Greek word for “unloving” in the Greek NT is astorgos, “a” meaning “no/not”, so it negates the Greek noun, storgos, which means “love, feel affection for someone, of the love of a wife for her husband.” So astorgos refers to someone who is unloving, and feels no affection or love for another person, including a spouse. This is not the same kind of love as for philia or agape (or eros, which is not in the NT). Exegesis of the text is so important – obtaining the meaning out of the text and not imposing one’s meaning onto the text, of the original language.
If a preacher/teacher doesn’t know the original biblical language he or she will have to depend on commentaries by teachers who knew the original languages. Sometimes, comparing several different translations (both formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence) may help to better understand a word or passage, instead of using Bible lexicons. I appreciate that many Christians do not have the training in the original languages to be able to access Bible lexicons (dictionaries).
Astorgos is found in only two NT passages – Rom 1:31 and 2 Tim 3:3 – but it does involve a word for love – a negation of that word.
“When the Bible gives us the meaning of a word, especially an important word like faith, can’t we all agree this is the meaning that God intended for us to use?”
“Believe and faith are two different words and should not be used interchangeably.”
Believe and have faith in are not the same.
The verse does not say have faith in, that is your inserted opinion based on your understanding that comes from commentaries. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! James 2:19.
The point James is making here is demons believe in God but don’t obey Him.
Believing without obeying is demonic believing and profits us nothing.
Likewise those who believe Jesus is Lord but don’t obey Him, are deceived.
Faith must have the action of obedience to be complete, and active or alive.
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? James 2:21
This is an example of some strange theology that lurks around churches and the Internet when Christians don’t dig deeper than a surface reading of the text in English. An exegesis of the noun, “faith,” and the infinitive, “to believe,” demonstrates faith and belief can be used interchangeably in the NT. However, is that always the case?
3. Light from Romans 3:22
Let’s use Rom 3:22 as an example (See translation below from the NIV).
English Bibles translate words from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. That does not give us the full meaning of any word or grammatical construction. That will take exegesis, but there are too many lazy promoters of the Bible who simply want to read a translated language in English as stating the true meaning of a word. That is not the way it is and I won’t accept such gullible conclusions.
We read this in John’s Gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31 ESV). I have searched in vain in John’s Gospel for the word, “faith” (It may be there), but have not found the exact word but the concept of faith is there. Pisteuo and its declensions are used over 100 times in John’s Gospel, meaning “I believe” (or other meaning of “believe” associated with the declension) and that leads to “life in his name” (John 20:31 ESV).
Examples of different declensions of pisteuo in John’s Gospel include:
- John 1:7 (NASB), “so that all might believe through him.” “Might believe” is pisteus?sin, aorist, active, subjunctive, the subjunctive mood is the mood of doubt, 3rd person plural verb. Since it is aorist, it refers to a point of action, but there is doubt associated with it, so the translation, “might believe”, is more than acceptable.
- John 3:12 (NASB), “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Both uses of “believe and the negative do not believe.” The first use of “believe” is pisteuete (present tense, active voice, indicative mood, second person plural), which means you, as a group, do not continue to believe. The second use of “believe” is pisteusete, which is future tense, active voice, indicative mood, second person plural. Being future time, it does include a future time element.”
John 17:8 (NASB), “they believed that You sent Me.” “Believed” is the Greek, episteusan, which is a pluperfect tense, which “is a secondary tense. It is used of action that had been completed prior to some point in the past. It is the Perfect Tense adjusted backward in time”. So, the meaning here is that at some time in the past the disciples believed Jesus was sent by the Father.
Generally in Greek the suffixes for nouns are called declensions, while the suffixes for verbs are titled conjugations.
On the other hand, Rom 3:21-23 (NIV) states,
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Here, righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. Are faith and belief interchangeable in Rom 3:22? Adam Clarke explained:
That method of saving sinners which is not of works, but by faith in Christ Jesus; and it is not restrained to any particular people, as the law and its privileges were, but is unto all mankind in its intention and offer, and becomes effectual to them that believe; for God hath now made no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles (Adam Clarke, Rom 3:22).
For Clarke, faith in Jesus Christ is available to all people but only becomes effective for those who believe in Jesus. This doesn’t clarify the verse for me.
Douglas Moo, an eminent contemporary Greek commentator, uses the Greek prepositions to explain and accept the traditional view that verse 22 deals with the “human” side of the transaction: “It is ‘through’ faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe…. Paul highlights faith as the means by which God’s justifying work becomes applicable to individuals.” Moo refers to “pistis almost always means ‘faith’: very strong contextual features must be present if any other meaning is to be adopted. But these are absent in the present if any other meaning is to be adopted” (Moo 1996, 224-25).
Moo is aware of a contemporary interpretation gaining favour: “Paul asserts not that God’s righteousness is attained ‘through faith in Jesus Christ,’ but ‘through the faith of Jesus Christ,’ or ‘through the faithfulness shown by Jesus Christ.” Moo does not find the argument for this view compelling. He noted that the section of Rom 3:21—4:25 designated pistis to refer to “the faith exercised by people in God, or Christ, as the sole means of justification” (Moo 1996:225, emphasis in original).
If Paul mentions human faith in this phrase, why then does he add the phrase ‘for all who believe’?… Paul’s purpose is probably to highlight the universal availability of God’s righteousness. This theme is not only one of the most conspicuous motifs of the epistle, but is explicitly mentioned in vv. 22b-23. God’s righteousness is available only through faith in Christ—but it is available to anyone who has faith in Christ (Moo 1996, 226).
I’m still left hanging: Do faith and to believe have the same or similar meanings?
John Murray considers there are two different applications. Firstly, he acknowledged, “We may wonder why there is the addition, ‘unto all who believe.’” He considered the most reasonable interpretation was:
Not only is the righteousness of God brought into this effectual relation to all believers. Faith is not only effectual to this end; it is invariably effective whoever the person believing is….
This interpretation receives confirmation from the immediately succeeding clauses: “for there is no difference. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. As all are sinners, so all believers are justified freely by God’s grace. There are thus two distinct shades of thought in the two elements of the clause. “Through faith of Jesus Christ” stresses the fact that it is only through faith in Christ that this righteousness of God is operative unto justification. “Unto all who believe” stresses the fact that this righteousness is always operative when there is faith (1968, 111-12).
So, as a Calvinist, John Murray understands Rom 3:22 teaches that: (1) There is only salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and (2) This faith, no matter what the nationality, is only effective when Christians put that faith into effect – by believing.
One author summarised this with care: “The root of pistis (“faith”) is peithô (“to persuade, be persuaded”) which supplies the core-meaning of faith (“divine persuasion“). It is God’s warranty that guarantees the fulfillment of the revelation He births within the receptive believer (cf. 1 Jn 5:4 with Heb 11:1)” [source].
4. “Believe” in the Gospel of John
(Rylands Library Papyrus P52, recto, part of the Rylands Papyri, The front (recto) contains parts of seven lines from the Gospel of John 18:31–33, in Greek, and the back (verso) contains parts of seven lines from verses 37–38. Image courtesy Wikipedia.)
Therefore, in my understanding, the root meaning of pistis and pisteuo are related, but “faith” is in Christ alone for salvation and “I believe/I have faith” is the need to put faith into effect. Both refer to “divine persuasion” leading to action.
Why would John use “believe” and not “faith” in John 3:16 (NIV)? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” To believe leads to eternal life and saving from perishing. Romans 5:1 (NET) states, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I can’t see “faith” and “to believe” providing much of a different interpretation – except “to believe” is an effect of “faith.”
So the noun, “faith,” is not used in the Gospel of John but the verb, pisteuo (‘I believe’) is used many times. Remember Jesus’ use of the verb in speaking to Thomas, the one who doubted Jesus. This applies to all who hear the Gospel: ‘Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”‘ (John 20:29).
Throughout Scripture, I find there is no clear distinction between faith and belief, but Rom 3:22 does hint at a difference. Both are based on the same Greek root: pistis (faith) and pisteuo (I believe). The root comes from peitho, which means “tried to convince” (Acts 18:4), “persuade, appeal to someone” (2 Cor 5:11), “conciliate, satisfy” (Matt 28:14), “depend on, trust in, put one’s confidence in” (Philm 21; Lk 11:22), “be convinced, be sure, certain” (Rom 2:19; Heb 13:18); in the passive voice, “be persuaded, be convinced, come to believe” (Luke 16:31; Heb 11:13); “obey, follow” (Rom 2:8; Gal 3:1); and “be convinced, certain” (Heb 6:9; Luke 20:6).
Differences between faith and belief
However, this online author considers there are differences between faith and belief:
Belief and faith are not exactly equivalent terms. When Jesus told people, “Your faith has made you well,” faith was still His gift (Eph 2:8, 9). Any gift however, once received, becomes the “possession” of the recipient. Faith however is always from God and is purely His work (2 Thess 1:11).
Note: The Greek definite article is uniformly used in the expressions “your faith,” “their faith” (which occur over 30 times in the Greek NT). This genitive construction with the article refers to “the principle of faith (operating in) you” – not “your faith” in the sense that faith is ever generated by the recipient.
[The meaning of the definite article in this construction is “the principle of faith at work in you,” “the operating-principle of faith in them,” etc. For examples see: Mt 9:2, 22, 29; Lk 17:19; Phil 2:17; 2 Pet 1:5, etc.]
Faith (pistis) involves belief but it goes beyond human believing because it involves the personal revelation (in-working) of God. Faith is always God’s work. Our believing has eternal meaning when it becomes “faith-believing” by the transforming grace of God.
Reflection: Demons believe (and shudder) . . . but they do not have (experience of) faith!
Jas 2:19: “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (NASB) [Source].
It seems this author is showing the difference between faith as a gift of God and believing that involves a person accepting that gift. I would add that this gift of faith that is believed, leading to salvation, must be followed by works that demonstrate a person is saved (see James 2:14-26 ERV).
It is possible for people to have fake or deficient faith or belief. The differences between faith and belief seem to be more in contemporary usage. As long as we remember faith and belief do not distinguish between mental assent and unswerving commitment, we are on safe biblical grounds.
As I’ve written this article and considered some of the points above, I’m now unsure if faith and belief can be used interchangeably or have slight differences of meaning. Faith is a gift of God to the person who then accepts that gift – and believes. Is that the order?
I’ve had a change of heart in writing this article. If you want me to conclude that faith and belief are synonymous for the Christian faith, I have not yet become that fixed.
Faith is never generated by me but always by God who moves on my inner being. For the faith to be seen as genuine, it must be demonstrated by doing good deeds. However, God moves for me to experience faith, but I need to believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
6. Works consulted
Bauer, E, W F Arndt & F W Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House), 1957.
Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Ned B Stonehouse, F F Bruce, and Gordon D Fee (gen. eds.). Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.
Murray, John. The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 1 (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), F F Bruce (gen. ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. This is the one-volume edition that contains Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, but the page numbers start at the beginning for each volume, 1968.
 Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/the-good-news-the-bad-news.84920/ (Accessed 9 January 2021).
 Ibid., JLB#251.
 Ibid., JLB#252.
 Ibid., Fastfredy0#253.
 Ibid., JLB#342.
 Ibid., JLB#309.
 Ibid., OzSpen#341.
 Ibib., JLB#343.
 Ibid., JLB#346.
 Ibid., OzSpen#347.
 Ibid., OzSpen#304.
 Ibid., stovebolts#382.
 Ibid., JLB#396.
 Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich (1957, 774).
 These Bible translations include the ASV, Douay-Rheims, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NET, NKJV, ESV, RSV, NRSV and WEB.
 Examples include the CEV, ERV, NAB, NIRV, NIV, NJB, NLT, and REB.
 Ibid., JLB#343.
 Ibid., JLB#396.
 Ibid., JLB#353.
 Ibid., OzSpen#450.
 Declensions in Greek refer to the endings (suffixes) that indicate gender, number and case of a word. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of “declension” (2020. s.v. “gender”) as, “(in the grammar of Latin, Greek, and certain other languages) the variation of the form of a noun, pronoun, or adjective, by which its grammatical case, number, and gender are identified,” accessed 11 January 2021, https://www.lexico.com/definition/declension.
 New Testament Greek, Course II, Lesson 3, Available at: http://ntgreek.net/lesson23.htm (Accessed 11 January 2021).
 “Or through the faithfulness of” (footnote in NIV).
 The newer view interprets pistis followed by the genitive case as subjective genitive. However, the traditional interpretation uses pistis followed by the objective genitive (e.g. he pistis humov, ‘your faith’, as in NIV and RSV).
 Peitho’s definition is from Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich (1957, 644-45).
 This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).
Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 January 2021.