I am often asked for a “Statement of Faith” which very specifically defines what I “believe.” No doubt, you are familiar with them—most if not all Christian organizations use a “Statement of Faith” to distinguish themselves from others. And, distinguished from each other they are—to the tune of thousands and thousands of separate “groups.” Most of these distinctions are “doctrinal” based on what the members of any given group “believe.” Unfortunately in Greek, the words “believe” (πιστεύω [pisteuo]) and “faith” (πίστις [pistis]) connote something that does not reflect the Jewish World-view of Yeshua (Jesus) and his disciples.
In Greek, pisteuo is defined “primarily (as) an intellectual evaluation.”1 In other words, it means to “be convinced of” something—and of course, the stronger one’s “conviction” the stronger one’s “belief.” Pistis is also defined in these terms, i.e., it is “confidence, faith, trust (and) reliance on.”1 But of course, it is possible for someone to have “faith” in God, i.e., have a “strong conviction” about God—without “walking in His ways.” According to James, “even the demons believe (pisteuo) that (God is one)—and shudder” (Jam 2:19).
The Hebrew word for “faith,” אֱמוּנָה (e-munah) means something very different. It can mean “steadiness, reliability, honesty, conscientiousness, faithfulness (and) security.”2 In Hebrew, “faith” is obviously more about the connection between what one believes and what one does. Or, the connection between what one is on the “inside” and how one’s character is manifest on the “outside.” Or, said in yet another way, it is the outworking of the connection between “faith” and “action” that is so eloquently described in the Letter of James:
14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? … faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. 20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. 25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (Jam 2:14-26, italics added).
James’ theology is Jewish—not Greek. Faith is less about being “right”—less about holding to the right doctrinal positions—less about the way we distinguish ourselves from one other in the Body of Messiah—and more about walking in, and not just talking about, the “love of God.” This is why most Jewish organizations do not have a “Statement of Faith.” Jews are connected to each other organically—Christians are not.
1 Friberg Greek Lexicon
2 Holladay Hebrew Lexicon