Countering False Teaching About Faith

Countering False Teaching About Faith

Some people think faith is unthinking, that it’s “rationalizing,” that it’s opposed to knowledge. More often than not, that opinion comes either from ignorance or from prejudice

Some people don’t know that the faith has a background of knowledge supporting it. They think it’s a set of beliefs chosen out of the air, or from our parents, or from our church. They don’t realize there are libraries upon libraries of books questioning, doubting, discussing, and frequently confirming our beliefs.

Other people view us that way out of prejudice. The “New Atheists” claim to be the party of reason. They have little reason to think that way about themselves, but they do anyway.

Either way, when teaching about faith it’s wise to recognize what some people say about it. It doesn’t need a long explanation, just a brief acknowledgment that these beliefs are out there. For those who want to know more, the True Reason book contains loads of helpful perspective and corrective information.

10 thoughts on “Countering False Teaching About Faith

  1. I have taken the stance of abandoning the word “faith” to the contemporary usage. Most dictionaries now define it, as the first or second meaning, as “believing without evidence or proof.” It is extremely difficult to convey to unbelievers that it means anything else. Instead, I substitute in conversation the word “trust,” which still conveys the requirement of experience and prior knowledge. When we come to the Bible, I just say that the meaning has changed, that where the Bible says “faith” we can legitimately substitute the word “trust.”

  2. Most dictionaries now define it, as the first or second meaning, as “believing without evidence or proof.”

    Then maybe it’s time to start lobbying the people producing these dictionaries to correct their definition.

  3. Actually, the NT Greek word that we translate as faith is pistis. It occurs in the text in both noun and verb forms, the noun forms indicating trust, as Michelle said, and the verb forms the action of trusting or believing (and so it is translated into English that way).

    See here and here for a short summary.

    For the word studies, see
    here for pistis and
    here for the verb forms.

    You can also compare and contrast this with the Greek word that we translate as knowledge gnosis, here.

  4. What is the usage of the concept of faith in the Bible? Does it ever imply belief without evidence or proof? The answer is no, as a detailed analysis can show.

    Consider just two famous examples:

    Genesis 15:6 Then he (Abram) believed in the LORD, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
    – why did Abram believe? Because in Genesis 15:4-5, we are told that the “Word of The Lord” came to him (Abram) and the Lord took him outside to show him the stars – so shall your descendants be. Abraham had a direct encounter with Yahweh.
    The word “believed (in the LORD)” is Hebrew (אמן) emin , coming from a root word aman (H539) which means ‘to confirm, support, believe,’
    The Seputagint translates this as Greek πιστεύω (pisteuo, the verb form of pistis (the actual word is episteusen – verb: aorist active indicative 3rd person singular)) It implies confidence, trustworthiness, assurance, reliability. Abram did not believe without a reason.

    2. Genesis 42:20 This is part of Joseph’s story – Joseph is now Pharoah’s right hand, and Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt during the time of the seven year famine. You can read the entire portion of the narrative in Genesis 42:1-38 and beyond.
    Joseph has been questioning his brothers motives and demands that they bring their youngest brother to him, so that their words could be “verified” as the NASB translates it. The Hebrew word translated as “verified” is ‘ye omnu‘, from the same root word ‘aman‘ as above, and the Septuagint uses ‘pisteuthesontai‘ ( root verb is pisteuo again – to be believed or trusted). Again, we see that the belief that Joseph was seeking was to be based directly on the proof of his brothers bringing their youngest brother (who is Benjamin, Joseph’s full brother by Rachel). It is in this case, proof of the trustworthiness of their whole story – belief based on evidence and proof.

    In the New Testament:
    John 20:1-31: This is where John tells us about the empty tomb, the disciples’ encounters with the risen Jesus, and Thomas, who would not believe ( pisteuso – verb, future tense active voice, indicative mood, 1st-person singular) unless he had empirical proof.
    Well, he got the proof he needed from Jesus Himself – John 20:27 “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands, and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving (apistos – adjective, lack of belief and trust) but believing (pistos, adjective)”. Thomas sees the evidence, and acts on it, for in John 20:28, he declares Jesus to be “my Lord and my God”, that is, he realizes that the risen Jesus is who He claimed to be. Now Thomas has real faith – he has followed the evidence before him to its intended conclusion. Jesus chides Thomas – “because you have seen me, you have believed?(pepisteukas – verb, perfect tense, active voice, indicative mood, 2nd-person singular). Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed(pisteusantes – also a verb form of pistis, as an aorist active particple).
    Critics have claimed that this implies that Jesus approves of belief without evidence or proof, but this is not so. Thomas spent 3 years with Jesus – he saw and heard everything that Jesus did and said (hence his conclusion that Jesus was Lord and God); Thomas should have believed the eyewitness testimony of his fellow disciples, and Jesus is thinking of generations of people yet to come who will not have the opportunity to meet Him in person, but all they will have to go on is the eyewitness testimony of the apostles, and eventually what they would write (cf John 17:18-21, Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 24:44-49).

    In fact, John tells us his reason for writing his gospel account in John 20:30-31, namely he wanted to record his eyewitness testimony to what he had seen and heard and experienced so that ‘you may believe (pisteuete – verb: aorist active sunbunctive, 2nd person plural ) that Jesus is the Christ (the promised Messiah), the Son of God; and that believing ( pisteuontes verb, present active participle plural nominative masculine ) you may have life in His name.

    John has no concept of belief without evidence. He wrote his gospel for the express purpose of providing that information.

  5. that should be subjunctive 🙂 From now on, I’m going to write such long posts in MS Word or the Logos editor first

  6. Good analysis, Victoria–thanks!

    About 35 or 40 years ago I wrote this definition of “faith” based on Scripture and personal experience: “Faith is acting on what you are accepting as true.” Since that time I have tried to test this definition against every instance of faith I have experienced, witnessed, and read about, and it has always held true. So I’m reasonably confident that it is a reliable definition. (But I wouldn’t claim it is the only possible one.)

  7. @Earl
    I think the Biblical concept of faith has many facets. I addressed one, and you have addressed another.
    1. Faith is always based on evidence.
    2. Faith requires action based on what one accepts as true.
    3 … TBD

  8. I would amend #1: Faith is always based on knowledge. That implies that it’s based on evidence in many cases, but there is also knowledge that is not necessarily evidence-based in the usual sense of the term. Memory, logical inferences, …

  9. I used the wording “accepting as true” rather than “based on knowledge” because it is possible to “know” something and act on it in good faith, only to find out that it wasn’t true after all. That still demonstrates faith, but not faith based on knowledge. It is faith based on an error. Atheists accept as true that there is no God, and they act on that in faith.

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