Tag Archives: Basics

Blind Faith?

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net“Blind faith”. I’ve heard atheists use the term as an insult to Christian opponents – “I believe in science and not blind faith like you.” Surprisingly, I’ve heard some Christians use it almost as a badge of honor  that they had such complete blind faith.  So what is the biblical perspective on faith? Is it really “believing something strongly in spite of a preponderance of evidence to the contrary” as atheists would claim? Is it a step into the unknown, taking God at His word, so to speak, with no reason whatsoever, as some Christians would claim? Or is there another option? What does the Bible itself say?

Hebrews 11:1 is the most famous definition of faith in the Bible: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Here, and in most other places translated as “faith”, the Greek word used is πίστις (pistis) or one of its related forms. This word can be translated as faith, belief, trust, confidence, or proof. Looking at secular Greek sources, Herodotus used it to refer to a pledge or military oath[1].  Other secular authors such as Aeschylus, Democritus, and Appian used the word to denote evidence from the senses or from eyewitness testimony, or proof of intent deduced from observed actions [2].  The Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo used the term pistis in his writings 156 times with the sense of evidence in over 50% of those instances [3]. Aristotle used the term to describe various “proofs” for convincing someone of your case through reason and logic [4]. This word for faith sounds like it was often used by secular sources as a justified belief based on observation, logical or philosophical reasoning, or testimony and solemn oaths. But we can dig a little deeper yet. The word pistis is derived from the Greek word πείθω (peitho), meaning “to persuade”. Are you persuaded blindly by any assertion you hear, or by evidence, by sound reasoning,and by common sense? It makes sense then that Aristotle would use pistis to describe the proofs of the art of rhetoric (persuasion).  It seems that Biblical faith is anything but blind. Rather, it is “God’s divine persuasion” [5]. It is also interesting that the word translated in Hebrew 11:1 as “conviction” in the NASB translation is ἔλεγχος (elegchos) which means proof, and is derived from ἐλέγχω (elegcho), a verb meaning “to convince with solid, compelling evidence; to expose, refute or prove wrong.” [6] Faith could be said to be God’s divine persuasion of the reality of the supernatural things we can’t observe with our natural senses.

So then, if our faith is more of an evidentially persuaded trust by definition, are there any supporting passages to confirm that is what biblical writers like Paul understood when using words like pistis and elegchos? Below is a partial list of supporting passages.

 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38

“And because of His words, many more became believers. They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.’” John 4:41-42 (NIV)

 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3 (NASB)

 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good…” 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NASB)

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1 (NASB)

We are to love God with all that we are, including our mind. Jesus repeatedly appealed to the evidence He presented to people, not the least of which was Him being alive after being scourged, crucified, and having a spear run through His chest.  Paul tells us to  examine everything carefully, while John urges discernment specifically in spiritual matters. In the end, I have to say that we don’t check our brains at the church door, and if we do, we’re not following the example set before us in Scripture. For while blind faith in the truth may still benefit us, it is an accidental benefit that could just as easily be a blind faith in error (such as cults). Thorough, honest investigation only destroys faith in error; but it only builds faith in what is true.

[1] The Histories, Book 3, Chapter 8, Herodotus. Viewable in English or Greek at The Perseus Project.
[2] Pistis as “Ground for Faith” in Hellenized Judaism and Paul, David M. Hay, Journal of Biblical Literature, 1989, 3rd Quarter, p. 461.
[3] ibid. p.463.
[4] Rhetoric, Aristotle, Book 1, Chapter 1:3, 4th century BC, Kindle Edition. The word pistis or one of its forms is translated as “proof” here and throughout the rest of the 3 books.
[5] Biblehub.com word study of pistis (Strong’s #4102).
[6] ibid, word study of elegchos (Strong’s #1650).

Back to Basics

Free Body Diagrams, Shear and Moment Diagrams, & Equilibrium EquationsI took an online class this fall taught by one of the leading experts in the world on connection design. He chairs several structural committees and has written much of the reference material for connection design for 30 years. I was struggling to follow what he was doing, and some other people were too, judging by the questions being asked. He chided us – rightfully so – for having become too reliant on computers and forgetting our “first principles”. For the structural engineer, these are things like free-body diagrams, moment and shear diagrams, and the equilibrium equations. These are foundational analysis methods for us, and it’s incumbent on the engineer to be familiar with the basic principles at work in complex situations. Sometimes, we might get lost in more advanced classes because we didn’t really comprehend the basic material when we studied it. Other times, it’s a case of never using it in practice and forgetting it. But in either case, the engineer lacking in these areas is responsible for correcting the situation, whether by studying hard to learn it anew, or refreshing old memories. In a class, it might be embarrassing to not remember the basics, but on the job many tragic engineering failures were ultimately traceable to neglecting basic principles.

Likewise, Christians have “first principles” that are critical for them to understand. Doctrines about the Trinity, our sinful nature, salvation, justification and sanctification, and the deity of Christ, are not just “Christianese” buzzwords or dry, musty subjects for seminary classrooms. These are not concepts reserved for the “professional Christians” to preach about on Sundays. Rather, these are foundational explanations of what it means to be a Christian, and our understanding of them impacts our daily lives whether we know it or not.  Like my class instructor, the writer of the book of Hebrews also chided his readers, saying, “For even though by this time you ought to be teaching others, you actually need someone to teach you over again the very first principles of God’s Word. You have come to need milk, not solid food.” (Heb 5:12). There is an expectation of all of us to continue growing and maturing in our faith, both for drawing closer to God in our own lives, and for being able to pass on the what we’ve learned to those we care about (which should be everyone, by the way). 

So how do we start living this out? Consider what Luke wrote in Acts 17:11 about when Paul came to speak at the Jewish synagogue in Berea: “Now these [Bereans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”  When you hear a preacher, do you zone out, or think about your shopping list or tasks to do later? Does the sermon go in one ear and out the other? Could you remember the main points after a few days? How can you apply lessons in your life that you don’t even remember? Instead, let me suggest taking a page from the Bereans’ playbook of intentional listening  – take notes, go home to study each day, and confirm the truthfulness of what was said and how it can apply in your life. Just like notes and homework help reinforce our academic lessons, we need to internalize and comprehend far more important spiritual lessons.

Or maybe you are striving to learn, but getting watered-down milk  at your church and left craving some meatier material to sink your teeth into. Then be proactive.

  • Seek out mature Christian mentors to learn from. They may be old with the wisdom gleaned from a long life, or they may have packed a lot of painful lessons into a short life while attending the “school of hard knocks”. Be prepared to learn in humility from whoever has something to teach you, always verifying their teaching against God’s Word. And remember, discipleship doesn’t happen in an hour every Sunday. It’s usually a long-term, committed, intensive, small-group or one-on-one training.
  • Read the classics. If there’s one benefit to our “Information Age”, it’s that many of us have more resources at our fingertips than most people throughout history have had even if they traveled to large historic libraries.  Our problems often aren’t as unique as we like to think, and you may find your question was actually answered centuries ago.
  • And above all, follow in the footsteps of the Bereans and go back to the source: Scripture. Like them, that is the standard we measure everything else against.

I say this not as a criticism of anyone, but rather as a challenge to all Christians – myself  included – to ensure we understand the groundwork of first principles that provide a foundation for an unshakeable faith.