I was looking over my bookshelf the other day when Fulton Oursler’s The Greatest Faith Ever Known caught my eye. I’ve never read it (like too many other books I own), but I know it’s about the apostle Paul. And it got me wondering: didn’t Jesus have the greatest faith ever known?
No, he didn’t, at least not according to the Gospels. Jesus uses the word “faith” 41 times in the Gospels (English Standard Version), and in every case he was speaking of someone else’s faith (or lack of it). He never used the term in the first person, speaking of his own faith. No other writer in the Bible spoke of Jesus’ faith, either.
Contrast that with Paul, for whom faith was definitely a first-person experience. I took a look and counted at least eighteen times he mentioned his own faith. The one that really stands out in this context is 2 Timothy 3:10: “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness….” Jesus and his followers called on us to follow his teaching, his conduct, his aim in life, his love, and his steadfastness. No one ever called on us to follow his faith.
This is striking, to say the least. Two interlocking reasons for it come to mind.
First, faith is not a virtue in itself, in spite of what Peter Boghossian says Christians say about it. Generally speaking, faith is a virtue if it’s placed in a trustworthy object. The Bible never speaks about faith for faith’s sake. It commends faith specifically in God, in his promises, in his character, and so on.
Second, the Bible tells us Jesus is God incarnate. While it might make sense for you or me to speak of having faith in ourselves, it’s absurd to think of God as having faith in himself. We talk of faith in ourselves because we know there’s reason sometimes to doubt. God knows there is never reason in himself to doubt.
When we trust in God, we trust in another, who has promised to act on our behalf in accord with his character and his promises. Jesus doesn’t look to God to act on his behalf.
That doesn’t mean Jesus lacked faith. There was nothing missing or lacking there. I struggled coming up with the right short phrasing to use in the title of this post. “Faithlessness” has connotations that don’t fit. “Absence” was the best single word I could come up with at first. The phrasing there still feels awkward to me. It’s just so odd to think of the Author of our faith being without faith himself.
He had no faith in God, as far as we’re told, yet he founded a religion of faith. It was for him the virtue underlying all other virtues, even love, but he didn’t demonstrate it himself. You’d think a religious founder who took a pass on his own chief virtue would be doomed to failure. Not so with Jesus. The only way that makes sense is if he thought he was exempt from the need for faith; and the only way any person could be exempt from the need to trust in God would be if that person were God.
Skeptics say Jesus’ deity isn’t taught in the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and they question it even in John. I won’t go into the several ways they’re wrong about what’s taught there. My point for today is that they’ve missed the importance of what isn’t taught there. The absence of any mention of Jesus’ faith only makes sense if Jesus, unlike all the rest of us, had no need for it: only if he understood himself to be God in the flesh.
P.S. There’s a lot more than this to be said about Jesus’ deity as it’s taught in the New Testament. I highly recommend Bowman and Komoszewski’s Putting Jesus In His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ.
Hmmmm?…. Some thoughts… Hebrews 12:2 adds credence to the above subject. As the Living Word John 1 1-5, Jesus did not require faith as He was the Author of it. We as His creation who by His grace He calls and persues by His Spirit are required to place our faith in Him and His Word. Remarkably this (faith) is a gift from God! Ephesians 2:8
Just something to be aware of is that some scholars would argue Rom 3:22 should be translated “through the faith of Jesus Christ” not “through faith in Jesus Christ”. Similarly 3:26 would be “who has the faith of Jesus” rather than “who has faith in Jesus”. But generally this translation is accompanied by a broader understanding of faith as encompassing faithful obedience and in this respect we do follow Christ.
Thanks for that, Melissa. Would those scholars say that this means something along the lines of “faith like Jesus’ faith” or more like “the faith associated with the way of Jesus Christ”?
I suspect the latter, but I don’t know what they would say.
The NSRV has the alternate translation in the notes. One thing to note is that both faith of/in Jesus and the meaning of “the righteousness of God” are disputed. But for those who adopt the faith of Jesus they take the stance the the passage has a theological rather the anthropological focus. (ie. Paul is concerned about God’s activity rather than how human beings may be justified) Plus it is largely a dispute of the grammatical forms of the Greek which I haven’t studied. Also the meaning would be closer to faithfulness of Jesus rather than trust of Jesus. So it could be “those who rely on Jesus faithfulness.” But I would lean more towards “those who manifest Jesus faithfulness” and for Paul that faithfulness is most fully expressed on the cross. I think Paul definately links our participation with Christ to our new life (Rom 6) and our co-suffering with our co-glorification (Rom 8).
In relation to the current OP, if the translation is taken as the faith (or faithfulness) of Jesus my thought is that when Jesus speaks of faith there is the idea of trusting that Jesus can do the miracles but also accompanied by what might be understood as faithful obedience to this belief in their actions. I think that faithful obedience is what Jesus manifests on the cross and that is the kind of faith we are called to. So Jesus is the pattern for our faith, but not in the sense of the content of our beliefs (if that makes sense). So if it is the faith of Jesus it would not strictly speaking be trust in God as we understand it, but rather in an anological way.
It’s worth noting that God is often described as being faithful (to his own promises), but that’s being faith-worthy, not practicing faith.
Hey Tom – interesting post! Got me thinking:
four whole posts, actually.
Some thoughts in response to this second part:
I saw your first part there, and it got me thinking, too. I won’t have time to follow up today, probably, but I certainly will. Thanks for dropping by here and pointing us that direction.