Written by Todd Mangum
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 00:00
I often tell theology classes at Biblical that Greek and Hebrew are helpful tools, but rarely make a definitive difference in how major biblical concepts are understood. Somewhat like the difference between watching a television program in color vs. black-and-white, helpful nuances are added by the original languages, but rarely is the overall plotline changed.
One exception to this, though, and one point on which I do think the original language makes a potentially very significant difference, concerns a very core evangelical doctrine — justification through faith; most poignantly, understanding what is faith.
Consider a couple of nouns or adjectives that are easily made into verbs in English:
“Height” becomes “heighten.”
“Glory” becomes “glorify.”
“Light” becomes “enlighten.”
But there are a couple of words that English does not convert well into verbs. One such word is the word “faith.” The most elaborate biblical explanation of what exactly “faith” is in found in Hebrews 11 — the “hall of fame of faith.” Notice that the explanation of “faith” found there makes it seem that faith is more easily illustrated than defined. “By faith” the Red Sea was crossed, patriarchs left hearth and home for a land they did not know but to which God called them; “by faith” powerful armies were routed and mothers received back their children from the dead and on and on.
Try your hand at listing what characterizes “faith” in Hebrews 11. Most any list would almost have to include characteristics like “courage,” “patience,” “perseverance,” “trust,” “commitment.”
Now, here’s the thing: “faith” (pistiz; “pistis”) is easily made into a verb in Greek: “pisteuo” (pisteuw). An original reader seeing that verb would read it as something like “faithify”; or “exercise faith in”; even “align one’s life commitments in accordance with” — that is, the whole, full-orbed range of connotations associated with “faith.” But in English, we get just one small aspect of the semantic range of the word; viz., “believe” — something that’s certainly included within the broad range of the word, but hardly captures the full import.
Just imagine how our understanding of the gospel message of John 3:16, for instance, would be adjusted — and improved! — if we heard the word at its original volume, and read it as, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whosoever should align their life commitments in accordance with Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
I’m convinced that some of our reductionist understanding of the full-orbed Kingdom gospel message of Jesus and the New Testament is rooted in a truncated understanding of just what “exercising faith” (or pisteuw, “pisteuo”) is. I’d like to try to change that.
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.