Have you any idea how often the word “faith” and its related terms “faithful, faithfully, faithfulness and believe” occur in the English Old Testament? I have in mind the King James Version, which is the one commonly used in our churches. A study of your Bible with this question in mind will prove to be most revealing, even startling.
Do you know how often you find the word “faith” in the Old Testament? Exactly twice. In Deuteronomy 32:20 the Lord speaks concerning His people: “They are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.” In Habakkuk 2:4 we find the well known words: “The just shall live by faith.” In both cases a word is used in the original that is commonly translated “faithful” or “faithfulness.” Accordingly, “children in whom is no faith” could as well have been translated “children in whom is no faithfulness,” and “The just shall live by faith” might as well have been made to read “The just shall live by his faithfulness.”
Do you know how often the word “faithful” occurs in the Old Testament? Exactly 28 times, with various shades of meaning. Sometimes the idea of truthfulness is clearly on the foreground. At other times the notion of stability or steadiness or steadfastness is more predominant. Several times the word is used in reference to God Himself. “All thy commandments are faithful,” we read in Psalm 119:86. In Psalm 119:138 the Psalmist rejoices: “Thy testimonies are very faithful.” In Deuteronomy 7:9 we find the beautiful words: “Know therefore that the Lord thy God is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him.” At other times the words is used with reference to men, often however, in a rather general sense and without direct reference to the relation of man to God. “A wicked messenger falleth into mischief: but a faithful ambassador is health,” Proverbs 13:17. “A faithful witness will not lie: but a false witness will utter lies,” Prov. 14:5. “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” Prov. 20:6. Only 13 times is the word used with reference, more directly or less so, to man’s relation to God, to the manifestation of the grace of God unto salvation in the heart of the sinner. “O love the Lord, all ye his saints: for the Lord preserveth the faithful,” Psalm 31:23, etc.
How often do you find the adverb “faithfully” in the Old Testament? No oftener than 5 times. Not once does it refer directly to man’s ethical relation to God, unless it be in a very remote and general sense.
How about the word “faithfulness”? Only 19 times it is used in the Old Testament. The Psalms contain the term some 13 times, always, however, in reference to God Himself. Not once do they speak of the faithfulness of man. Isaiah 11:5 speaks of Christ: “And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.” Isaiah 25:1 refers to the counsels of God: “Thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.” Psalm 5:9 is speaking of the wicked, when it says: “For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness.” It is only in Hosea 2:20 that the reference may be to man’s relation to God. There Jehovah speaks: “I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.” It is more than possible that even here the reference is not to some faithfulness that is worked in man’s heart, but to the faithfulness in God whereby he will betroth His own unto Himself.
Finally, do you know how often the term “believe” occurs in the Old Testament? Exactly 44 times. Of these some 25 have no regard whatsoever to saving faith in God. Jacob’s heart fainted because he believed not the word of his sons. Moses feared that Israel would not believe that Jehovah had sent him. Achish believed David. The queen of Sheba believed not the words she had heard concerning the acts and wisdom of Solomon. Only 19 times does the term have reference at all to God. The majority of these refer simply to accepting as truth some definite word of God. Only six or seven have a truly religious connotation, such as the word has for us today, when we speak of the activity of faith in the God of our salvation.
What does it all add up to? Taken together, the terms “faith, faithful, faithfully, faithfulness, believe” are used only 35 times in the Old Testament in a sense approximating their connotation in the new dispensation. Several of these are more or less doubtful as far as their specific religious significance is concerned. In the Old Testament there are 39 books; more than 900 chapters. Hence, the average is less than once per book; once per 26 chapters. Compare this with the 27 books of the New Testament, where the noun for “faith” and the verb for “believing” occurs some 240 times each. We shall venture an explanation presently.
What about the original?”
The Old Testament lacks a definite noun for “faith” such as we do have in the New Testament. That does not mean that the matter itself does not appear repeatedly in the Old Testament. It does. The entire Old Testament is full of the “promise,” which could be appropriated certainly only by a true and living faith in God. Acts and activities of faith are recorded on almost every page of the Old Testament, and the New Testament repeatedly refers to them as such. However, the technical term for “faith” is lacking in the Old Testament. The spiritual-ethical relation of man to God is usually expressed by words such as fear, serve, love, cleave, obey, trust, hope and wait.
The words in the Old Testament approaching closest in meaning to the New Testament words for “faith” and “believing” are all derived from the verb “aman.” This word in its different forms has various shades of meaning. From it, by the way, is derived our word “amen,” meaning: verily, truly, certainly.
In one form (Qal) the word means: to stay, to support; also to nurse, to nourish, to bring up. In the latter sense the word is used in Esther 2:20: “For Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him.” In Numbers 11:12 it is used in the sense of nursing: “Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child?” Notice, this is the word approaching closest to the New Testament word for “faith.”
In another form (Niphal) the word means: to be supported, to be nursed, to be borne; also, to be durable, lasting, permanent; further, to be confirmed, founded; and finally, to be faithful, trustworthy, sure, with respect to God, His Word, His law, His people, etc.
In still another form, the most common in the Old Testament, the word means: to trust, to confide in, to lean, and thus to believe. “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.”Isaiah 28:16.
For the religious significance of the term in the Old Testament three passages are perhaps most pertinent. Genesis 15:6 tells us that Abraham believed in God and that faith was reckoned unto him for righteousness. He did not doubt the promise, but trusted unconditionally, though all seemed dark and hopeless, in the living God. Isaiah 7:9 tells us that Ahaz, who seeks help from and leans on Assyria, will not be established, if he does not look away from Assyria and lean on God alone. In Habakkuk 2:4 it is said that the just shall live only in the way of trust in God and His promise.
Faith and trust always go hand in hand. God is the ever faithful one and they that believe in Him in spite of all adversity and opposition are the faithful in the land.
As far as the concept “faith” is concerned, therefore, there is a tremendous difference in usage between the Old and the New Testament. Why this difference?
It seems to us that the answer lies in Christ and His coming into the flesh in the fullness of time. Always on the foreground in the Word of God is the spiritual relation of faith to Christ and our salvation in Him alone. Faith is that work of God in the elect whereby the latter are implanted into Christ and embrace and appropriate Him and all His benefits. By faith, therefore, we are engrafted into Christ. It is the spiritual means whereby we are united with Him; the bond which makes one body with Him. All our salvation is in Christ alone; all our redemption, forgiveness, righteousness, knowledge of God, wisdom, sanctification, eternal life and light and joy. To obtain all these we must become one plant with Him. The bond that realizes this mystical unity is the bond of true faith. As a power, a spiritual aptitude, it has Christ as its chief object. Faith is the power to appropriate Christ; the fitness to believe in Christ. Without this, power all believing is eternally impossible. In its activity it is actual believing, trusting in Christ alone; God in Christ “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” It is spiritual, experiential, saving knowledge of God in Christ. In Christ all the fullness of the godhead dwelleth bodily and of that fullness we receive grace for grace. Faith is confidence, spiritual confidence in Christ, in whom and in whom alone God reveals Himself to us as the God of our salvation. This is certainly the significance of “faith” in the Word of God. Christ is its chief object and its significance grows in the measure He is more clearly revealed unto us.
In the old dispensation Christ was not yet. God was, of course, also as the Father of His people and the God of their salvation. Christ was, yes, but only in type and shadow. The reality had not yet come. All Israel’s faith was directed to the shadows as the promise of better things to come. It was the dispensation of the promise, the law, the type and shadow. Therefore the emphasis is very much on the activity rather than the spiritual bond. Therefore the Old Testament- does not speak of faith as does the New. Therefore words like fear, love, serve, obey, trust, hope and wait are more predominant than faith.
Does that mean that faith was not in the Old Testament as well as in the New? Of course not! Principally the way of salvation does not change. Israel as well as we were saved through faith. The New Testament speaks much of faith in connection with the saints of the Old Dispensation. “For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Rom. 4:3. “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to ail the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.” Rom. 4:16. Read Hebrews 11 to see how all the saints of the Old Testament lived and acted by faith. The way of salvation was the same in the Old Testament as in the New. “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” Acts 15:11. Then as well as now it was true that the just should live by faith. They as well as we needed from God the power, the habitus of faith. They as well as we lived and served God through the activity of faith.
All of which, however, does not gainsay the difference in dispensations. As the promise is fulfilled in the living Redeemer the significance of faith comes into ever clearer focus. In the Old Testament the eyes of the saints were directed in hope and expectation to the coming Christ; in the New Testament the life of the church is in the Word Incarnate Himself. In the Old Testament hope is predominant; m the New Testament faith. Therefore the difference in the use of the term. Therefore the noun and the verb for faith and believing occur some 240 times each in the New Testament. Therefore both have an almost exclusively religious connotation in the New Testament. Very seldom are they used in a general sense. As Christ becomes richer the concept “faith” becomes richer, both in Scripture itself and the consciousness and conception of the church.