Mending Walls:Faith

This was written by David of third world county and kindly cross posted here.
Enjoy.

Mending Walls: Faith

The word “faith” is bruited about quite a bit in common talk, in the
public arena, in churches, schools and the media. Every venue has a
different take on what faith is, how it operates, its value to society,
etc.

And mostly, even in Christian churches, the meaning ascribed to the
word
today, and its ascribed value to society by various groups, is so far
off
base that I wonder whether “mending” this wall is worth the effort.
Perhaps building an entirely new wall and calling it “pfeffernoogle”
would
be better.

*sigh*

Let me back off a bit with a set of current denotative definitions that
describe the word as it is in use today, ‘K?

  • Confident belief in the truth, value, or
    trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
  • Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
    See
    Synonyms at belief. See Synonyms at trust.
  • Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one’s
    supporters.
    often Faith Christianity. The theological virtue defined as secure
    belief
    in God and a trusting acceptance of God’s will.
  • The body of dogma of a religion: the Muslim faith.
  • A set of principles or beliefs.

I’ll not fisk those definitions directly for the evidence of pejoration
amounting to almost complete loss of the meaning of the word itself.
Instead, in this “Mending Walls: Faith, Part 1″ post (yes, there is a
part
2), I want to very simply and briefly look at the formation and use of
the
word “faith” and its antecedents (and the words it is used to
translate,
in a couple of important cases) as drawn from the Graeco-Roman and
Judeo-Christian roots that largely formed the basis of Western
Civilization… and provided us with a concept of faith that the modern
world has lost.

Part 2 will deal with what our loss of the concept means to our society
today… and perhaps what is means concerning our destination as a
society.

So, if you’re still with me, for the rest of part 1 CLICK

First, a couple of limitations: I have better understanding of Koine
Greek
than I do of Hebrew, so I won’t deal a lot with ‘esed and
other
Hebrew words concerning faith and faithfulness, except to say this:
there’s no substantive difference between their meanings to the
Hebrews/Jews of the Old Testament scriptures (on which much of
Christian
theology and influence rely) and the New testament Koine Greek words
pistis and pisteuo.

Next limitation: no Greek fonts, so those of y’all who read Koine will
just have to be satisfied with loose transliterations into a Western
alphabet.

Those disclaimers out of the way, here’s a spanner in the works of
contemporary Christian churches’ use of “faith: for ya.

…if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and
believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be
saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified,
and
it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Most “church folk” will at least vaguely recognize that passage as a
part
of “The Roman Road” explaining the Christian theology of salvation.
It’s
an important concept woven into the fabric of the early church, through
Medieval Western Civilization and surviving well into the time the King
James Bible translators chose to stay with Coverdale’s earlier use of
“faith” and “believe” to translate pistis and
pisteuo.

But what they’re not telling you from the pulpits and in the Sunday
School
classes (and what no Academia Nut Fruitcake has or wants to have the
slightest idea of) is that the Apostle Paul, in making that statement
to
people living in Rome, fully embedded in the contemporary Roman
culture,
was citing Roman oral contract law. Indeed, this same oral contract law
common to the every day lives of the Roman citizens was common
throughout
the Mediterranean world, and, was even common throughout much of the
known
world—and had been for millennia, in various forms.

What Paul was citing was a “fides” contract common between a master and
a
bond servant (one who had sold himself into servitude or a slave who’d
been freed and who had chosen to stay with his master), a military
leader
and his men, a husband and his wife.

It was a bilateral contract, and the basic formula was this:

Party one: “You are my lord (captain, husband)”—meaning essentially,
“I
pledge to obey you.” Period.

Party two: “You are my slave (soldier, wife)”—meaning “I will provide
for
you and (within any other terms of contract) protect you; I will [any
further promises of contract--wages, etc.].”

This form spoken before witnesses sealed the deal. From that point on,
the
servant/soldier/wife’s life was in the hand of his/her “lord”. And the
“lord” was bound to use his servant/soldier/wife well.

Of course this was abused. People are people. But there were legal
consequences for lords abusing their bondservants/soldiers/wives… and
consequences for bondservants, etc., disobedience. Death was an option.

Think of this “fides” contract as a wall. Inside the wall, one party is
obeyed and the other cared for. Each have their responsibilities and
each
their privileges.

BTW, those of y’all who’ve read the dictionary a lot have been waiting
for
me to state the obvious: “fides” is a direct antecedent to our English
word “fidelity” and related to “fiduciary” and other such words that
denote behavior characterized by trust, reliability, responsibility,
etc.

This “fides” contract formed the basis of the feudal system. And yes,
it
was abused, as always when people are involved in any covenental
relationship; just not as often and as badly as we are led to believe
by
such derogatory terms as “Dark Ages”.

Indeed, the feudal system, although strongly tied to a real property
base,
reflected this “fides” contract throughout, and gave English the word
“faith” from Norman French, where the term specifically reflected the
fides concept in feudal pledges between a lord and his followers,
servants, serfs.

It is an upchain/downchain loyalty pledge. Where do you think the term
noblesse oblige* came from, anyway?

Interestingly, at the time Coverdale, Wycliffe and later the King James
translators used “faith” to translate pistis in New Testament
passages, precisely because it reflected this “fides” type of
relationship, in other passages, such as the verses from Romans 10:
9-10
cited above, they chose another word, a specifically English
word, to translate the verb form of pistis (pisteuo):
believe.

And they did so because the people they were translating the Book
for—
literate people of the nobility and their servitors, primarily—knew
intimately what a be-liefan covenant was, even if they now
used
simply the “modern” (to them) words, “belief” and “believe”.

Lief-an” was a Celtic term of ancient heritage, predating the
Roman rule of England. It was… exactly the same as the “fides”
covenant.

later Angles added their own “be” as an intensifier, as the
lief-an” covenant became debased, to mean the highest form of
lief-an“—and to stamp their linguistic mark on the term, no
doubt.

So, what’s the value of this mini-historical/etymological look at
“faith”
as a word?

Simple: not only the Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures that
largely shaped Western Civilization, but also other cultures (not just
the
Celts, though their contribution of “believe” to English is valuable)
all
had a deeply-embedded meme of a bi-lateral covenant of trusting
obedience/providence and protection.

It was a given in matters of religion, civil government and family
matters. Those who were “faithless” in these matters could expect the
disapprobation of their peers, rulers and subjects alike… until a
subset
of the dominant culture became debased enough that they had no regard
for
matters of conscience, trustworthiness and responsibility.

Now, using the brief discussion of faith above, do your own fisk of
contemporary meanings for the word.

And begin anticipating my discussion of what the lack of such a
faith/fides/be-lief-an meme in today’s society means…


*noblesse oblige: Benevolent, honorable behavior considered to
be
the responsibility of persons of high birth or rank.

X-Posted from target="_blank">third world county. Also X-posted
to
href="http://thewideawakes.org/archives/2006/06/16/mending-walls-faith-part-1/"
target="_blank">The Wide Awakes.

8 Responses to “Mending Walls:Faith”

  1. third world county says:

    Mending Walls: Faith, Part 1…

    The word “faith” is bruited about quite a bit in common talk, in the public arena, in churches, schools and the media. Every venue has a different take on what faith is, how it operates, its value to society, etc….

    ……

  2. David says:

    Thanks for the “syndication”— :-)

  3. Angel says:

    aw tis mah pleasure David ..now ure famous ya hit da big time…lol :)

  4. elmers brother says:

    faith – Heb. 11:1 …”the EVIDENCE of things unseen” connotes a logic and reason to our beliefs and not checking our brain at the door.

    Good post Ange.

  5. Tim says:

    Many churches today, like unitarian types, are preaching that faith in Christ doesn’t save but that faith itself saves. That faith could be faith in anything, but as long as the faith is true, it saves. Or something like that. Personally I think its a bunch of crap. Faith in Jesus and the salvation He brings saves.

  6. Brooke says:

    Faith is being able to believe without seeing!

  7. elmers brother says:

    Well said Tim.

  8. David says:

    Brooke,

    The problem with your definition is that it’s circular. NT belief (where belief/believe is used to translate pistis and pisteuo) is the same thing as faith–since “faith” is simply used to translate pistis, the noun form of pisteuo.

    In each case, it is more than the circular “believing without seeing=faith”. The above-cited passage in Hebrews concerning faith is a prime example of shallow misreading in churches today, making faith—and the decription there—over into some mystical, voodooish mumbo jumbo, when it is anything but that.

    If we were to take the passage and give it an “amplified” translation, avoiding the gibberish that “faith” has come to mean as word to almost everyone today, we’d come out with something very similar to

    “Trusting obedience on our part is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen… ”

    “In trusting obedience to God’s word, we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, 3 so that what is visible came into being through the invisible. By/in trusting obedience Abel offered to God a sacrifice greater than Cain’s. Through this he was attested to be righteous, God bearing witness to his gifts, and through this, though dead, he still speaks… ”

    etc.

    “Trusting obedience” is much more in line with our part of the faith covenant with God than “Faith is being able to believe without seeing,” because faith on our part is trusting obedience. God’s avowed portion of the faith covenant is His trueness, his reliability, His continued providence and protection and care. Ours is to trust Him and obey His already revealed Word even when we do not know the immediate outcome–or even when we do, and the immediate outcome is persecution, trouble, or outright disaster from our perspective, as it was for many of those mentioned in hebrews 11, “of whom we are not worthy.”