What is πίστις?

This is not a study of any sorts, but a questioning of sorts.

Many biblical dictionaries and lexicons will use circular reasoning to define ‘faith,’and while Scripture interpreting Scripture is a hallmark of Protestantism, we must be careful not to create in Scripture something not there. In other words, we must first examine ‘faith’ in the original usage, and not merely as a Christian code-word.

We will examine πίστις, or faith.

The Lexicons (I will be using Bibleworks 8 as my primary tool)


πίστις, ἡ, gen. εως: dat. πίστει, Ion. πίστι¯: Ion. nom. and acc. pl. πίστι¯ς; dat. πίστισι: (πείθομαι):-trust in others, faith, Lat. fides, fiducia, Hes., Theogn., Att.; c. gen. pers. faith or belief in one, Eur.:-generally, persuasion of a thing, confidence, assurance, Pind., Att.
2. good faith, trustworthiness, faithfulness, honesty, Lat. fides, Theogn., Hdt., Att.
3. in a commercial sense, credit, trust, πίστις τοσούτων χρημάτων ἐστί μοι παρά τινι I have credit for so much money with him, Dem.; εἰς πίστιν διδόναι τί τινι Id.
4. in Theol. faith, belief, as opp. to sight and knowledge, N.T.
II. that which gives confidence: hence,
1. an assurance, pledge of good faith, warrant, guarantee, Soph., Eur.; πίστιν καὶ ὅρκια ποιεῖσθαι to make a treaty by exchange of assurances and oaths, Hdt.; οὔτε π. οὔθ᾽ ὅρκος μένει Ar.; πίστιν διδόναι to give assurances, Hdt.; διδόναι καὶ λαμβάνειν to interchange them, Xen.:-of an oath, θεῶν πίστεις ὀμνύναι Thuc.; πίστιν ἐπιτιθέναι or προστιθέναι τινί Dem.:- φόβων π. an assurance against fears, Eur.
2. a means of persuasion, an argument, proof, such as used by orators, Plat., etc.


21981  πίστις, εως, ἡ (1) active, as belief directed toward a person or thing confidence, faith, trust, reliance on (MT 9.2); (2) absolutely, without an object; (a) as the essential Christian religion (the) faith (CO 1.23); (b) as recognition and acceptance of Christian teaching faith (JA 2.17); (c) as a decision to be faithful and loyal to the Christian religion promise, pledge, commitment (1T 5.12); (d) as a conviction that brings certainty faith, assurance (RO 14.22); (e) as a Christian virtue, especially along with hope and love characterizing believers (1TH 1.3); (3) passive; (a) of what brings trust and confidence from others faithfulness, fidelity, reliability (TI 2.10); (b) as what inspires confidence pledge, (means of) proof, guarantee (AC 17.31); (4) objectively, as the content of what is believed doctrine, (the) faith (RO 1.5; JU 3)


πίστις, εως f: a promise or pledge of faithfulness and loyalty – ‘promise, pledge to be faithful.’ ἔχουσαι κρίμα ὅτι τὴν πρώτην πίστιν ἠθέτησαν ‘guilty of breaking their earlier pledge of faithfulness’ 1 Tm 5.12.


For the sense of “guarantee,” “pledge,” as in Ac 1731, cf. the mantic P Ryl I. 28187 (iv/A.D.) ποὺς ἀριστερὸς ἐὰν ἅλληται, σημαίνι αὐτὸν ἐπὶ λόγῳ καὶ πίστι πλανηθῆνα@ι, “if the left foot quiver, it signifies that a man will be deceived over a promise and pledge” (Edd.).

Πίστις = “bond” or “mortgage” is found in such passages as P Tebt I. 149 (B.C. 114) ἀναγραψάμεnov αὐτοῦ τὰ ὑπάρχοντα συντάξαι θεῖναι ἐν πίστει, “making a list of his property and arranging for it to be placed in bond,”
P Reinach 1810 (B.C. 108) ἐθέμην αὐτῶi ἐν πίστει καθ᾽ ὧν ἔχω ψιλῶν τό@π]ων συγγραφὴν ὑποθήκης, and P Oxy III. 4867 (A.D. 131) λαβοῦσα τὸν καθήκοντα τῆς ὠνῆς δημόσι@ον χρημα]τισμόν, ἔλεγεν ἐν πίστει με ἔχειν αὐτά, “although I had received the regular official contract of the sale, he said that I held this land on mortgage.” The phrase ὠνὴ ἐν πίστει is discussed in Philologus lxiii. (N.F. xvii.), 1904, p. 498 ff. See also the references in Preisigke Fachwörter s.v. πίστις, and for NT usage Burton Galatians (in ICC), p.478 ff.


πίστις, εως, ἡ faith, trust, commitment—1. as a characteristic or quality faithfulness, reliability, loyalty, commitment Mt 23:23; Ro 3:3; Gal 5:22; Tit 2:10.—2. that which evokes confidence, solemn promise, oath 1 Ti 5:12; proof, pledge Ac 17:31; τὴν π. τετήρηκα I have honored my obligation 2 Ti 4:7.—3. trust, confidence, faith in the active sense = ‘believing,’ esp. of relation to God and Christ Mt 9:2; Mk 11:22; Lk 18:42; Ac 14:9; 26:18; Ro 4:5, 9, 11–13; Gal 2:16; Eph 1:15; Col 2:12; Hb 12:2; Js 1:6; 1 Pt 1:21. Faith as commitment, Christianity Lk 18:8; Ro 1:5, 8; 1 Cor 2:5; 13:13; 2 Cor 1:24; Gal 3 passim; Js 1:3; 1 Pt 1:9. Conviction Ro 14:22f. Faith defined Hb 11:1.—4. That which is believed, body of faith or belief, doctrine Gal 1:23; Jd 3, 20; cf. 1 Ti 1:19.

Pre-New Testament Usage:

(As the use is extensive, I will focus on the idea that Faith is a pledge, an assurance, not mere trust)

Antiquities of the Jews 1:321 but when those who came to Jacob’s share proved numerous, he did not keep his faith with him, but said he would give them to him the next year, because of his envying him the multitude of his possessions. He promised him as before, because he thought such an increase was not to be expected; but when it appeared to be fact, he deceived him.

Antiquities of the Jews 1:321 πληθυόντων δὲ τῶν ἐπ᾽ ὀνόματι τῷ Ἰακώβου τικτομένων τὴν μὲν εἰς τὸ παρὸν οὐκ ἐφύλαττε πίστιν εἰς ἔτος δὲ παρέξειν ἐπηγγέλλετο διὰ τὸ ἐποφθαλμιᾶν τῷ πλήθει τῆς κτήσεως ἐπαγγελλόμενος μὲν διὰ τὸ δυσέλπιστον γενέσθαι τοσαῦτα ψευδόμενος δὲ ἐπὶ γενομένοις

OPE  Pseudo-Phocylides 1:13 Keep a deposit; guard faith in everything.

OPG  Pseudo-Phocylides 1:13 παρθεσίην τηρεῖν, πίστιν δ᾽ ἐν πᾶσι φυλάσσειν.

RSV  3 Maccabees 3:3 The Jews, however, continued to maintain good will and unswerving loyalty toward the dynasty;

BGT  3 Maccabees 3:3 οἱ δὲ Ιουδαῖοι τὴν μὲν πρὸς τοὺς βασιλεῖς εὔνοιαν καὶ πίστιν ἀδιάστροφον ἦσαν φυλάσσοντες

De opificio mundi 1:57 And the greatness of the power and sovereignty of the sun has its most conspicuous proof in what has been already said: for he, being one and single has been allotted for his own share and by himself one half portion of all time, namely day; and all the other lights in conjunction with the moon have the other portion, which is called night. And when the sun rises all the appearances of such numbers of stars are not only obscured but absolutely disappear from the effusion of his beams; and when he sets then they all assembled together, begin to display their own peculiar brilliancy and their separate qualities.

PHI  De opificio mundi 1:57 τὸ δὲ μέγεθος τῆς περὶ τὸν ἥλιον δυνάμεως καὶ ἀρχῆς ἐμφανεστάτην πίστιν ἔχει τὴν λεχθεῖσαν ἤδη· εἷς γὰρ ὢν καὶ μόνος ἰδίᾳ καὶ καθ᾽ αὑτὸν ἥμισυ τμῆμα τοῦ σύμπαντος χρόνου κεκλήρωται τὴν ἡμέραν, οἱ δ᾽ ἄλλοι πάντες μετὰ σελήνης θάτερον ὃ κέκληται νύξ· καὶ τοῦ μὲν ἀνατείλαντος αἱ φαντασίαι τῶν τοσούτων ἀστέρων οὐκ ἀμαυροῦνται μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀφανίζονται τῇ τοῦ φέγγου ἀναχύσει, καταδύντος δὲ τὰς ἰδίους ἄρχονται διαφαίνειν ἀθρόοι ποιότητας.

PHE  De opificio mundi 1:109 But there are two ways of judging of harmonic proportion. One when, whatever ratio the last number bears to the first, the excess by which the last number exceeds the middle one is the same as the excess by which the middle number exceeds the first. And any one may derive a most evident proof of this from the numbers before mentioned, six, and eight, and twelve: for the last number is double the first. And again, the excess of twelve over eight is double the excess of eight over six. For the number twelve exceeds eight by four, and eight exceeds six by two; and four is the double of two.

PHI  De opificio mundi 1:109 ἁρμονικῆς δ᾽ ἀναλογίας διττὴ κρίσις· μία μέν, ὅταν ὃν λόγον ἔχει ὁ ἔσχατος πρὸς τὸν πρῶτον τοῦτον ἔχῃ ἡ ὑπεροχὴ ᾗ ὑπερέχει ὁ ἔσχατος τοῦ μέσου πρὸς τὴν ὑπεροχὴν ᾗ ὑπερέχεται ὑπὸ τοῦ μέσου ὁ πρῶτος. ἐναργεστάτην δὲ πίστιν λάβοι τις ἂν ἐκ τῶν προκειμένων ἀριθμῶν, τοῦ ἓξ καὶ ὀκτὼ καὶ δώδεκα· ὁ μὲν γὰρ τελευταῖος τοῦ πρώτου διπλάσιος, ἡ δ᾽ ὑπεροχὴ πάλιν διπλασία· τὰ μὲν γὰρ δώδεκα τῶν ὀκτὼ τέτταρσιν ὑπερέχει, τὰ δὲ ὀκτὼ τῶν ἓξ δυσί· τὰ δὲ τέσσαρα τῶν δυοῖν διπλάσια.

Quite simply, I want to look at πίστις as an active proof, or commitment. While in Faith we acknowledge our trust in Christ and His work, trusting in it that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life, Faith must move beyond the passive application into something more active, along the lines of ‘proof.’

If πίστις is active, it is our active pledge of assurance with Christ, but even much more than that. It is not a work to be given the faith in Christ, but it must be a work to maintain it.

What say ye?

Is faith an active lifestyle?

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28 Replies to “What is πίστις?”

  1. Joel, I would like to recommend a book to you. Richard B. Hays’ The Faith of Jesus Christ.

    I enjoyed the parts that I have read. It is all about the faithfulness of Christ, the faith of (rather than in) Christ, who remains committed to us.

    1. Rod,
      Thanks for that. In fact, I’ve been looking at that expression for a few years now. At some levels it makes a lot of sense. But I still need to research it some more. Having done that, just yet.

      Joel, this is awesome data.

      1. No problem, TC. I was going to be longer, but in the end, I wanted to hear more form others than telling others what I thought.

        1. No, I mean as in proof there of. Like Philo’s usage. Our ‘faith’ is that which we give and receive from God as a testament, a statement, a deposit.

  2. I was watching Polar Express with the kids last night, and towards the end, the conductor punched words on the kids tickets as they were boarding the train for the return ride home. On one kid’s ticket, the words “depend on”, “rely on”, “count on” showed themselves as the kid turned the ticket over and over.

    I was looking at various translations of John 3:16 and noticed the Darby has “believes on”.

    This would fit with the definition of pisteuo ( http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/pisteuo.html ) , translated as “believe” in John 3:16 – to place confidence in, to trust.

    Faith itself is not evidence, but faith engenders evidence of the belief one has.

    You can have a loosely or lightly held belief and not have trust in or faith in that which you believe. Or you can have a strongly held belief in someone which rises to the level of trust in, or faith in, or reliance upon, that person. But this faith is not tested until such a time as difficulty come, and you have to rely upon that person to do that for which you are trusting him/her.

    I’ve given the example before of believing your 40 year old car will make the drive from LA to NYC. It might be a lightly held belief, but not to the level of faith, or it might be true trust. If its trust, you give evidence to that faith by actually making the drive from LA to NYC. The driving is not the faith, it is putting the faith into action; it is the evidence of the faith which you say you have.

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