“Faith” is one of the terms most often used to translate the Greek noun pistis. Pistis and its relatives, including the verb pisteuein and the adjective pistos, are among the most widely used terms in the New Testament and were key concepts early Christians used to describe their relationship with God and Jesus Christ.
How should pistis be translated?
Outside the Bible, pistis has a wide range of meaning, centering on trust and trustworthiness and including faithfulness, loyalty, good faith, honesty, reliability, and confidence. It can also refer to things that create trust, including belief, testimony, proof, and pledge. For example, the historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Antiquitates romanae 1.58.4) reports that when the Trojans first settled Italy they made a pistis, a pledge of good behavior, to the local inhabitants, which allowed them to live in peace. When Christianity arose, there was no word for religious faith as Christians later understood it: a rich compound of teaching, belief, trust, obedience, hope, nonrational certainty, and mystery, together with practices such as prayer, shared worship, and the celebration of the Eucharist. Nor was there a word for the faith.
It is debated whether pistis already means faith or the faith in some New Testament writings or whether those meanings developed later. In the New Testament, pistis tends to mean trust, trustworthiness, faithfulness, or belief. For example, when Jesus tells the disciples, “Have pistis in God” (
By the late first or early second century, Christians were beginning to stretch the meaning of pistis to describe the distinctive nature of their relationship with God and Christ. When the Letter of Jude exhorts a Christian group “to contend for the pistis that was once for all handed down to the saints” (
For much of Christian history, belief and faith have been seen as more important than trust between God, Christ, and humanity. Translations of the Bible have therefore tended to translate pistis as “faith” or “belief.” Since the mid-twentieth century, however, interest in the trust aspect of pistis has grown. So, for example, when Paul reassures his fellow-travelers that they will not be shipwrecked (