Most Bible translations use the word “faith” in hundreds of passages. Yet a strong argument can be made that what many people understand by “faith” – i.e., “just believing,” even if blindly – is not a Biblical idea at all! How can this be?
The Biblical Hebrew word sometimes translated as “faith” is אמונה (emunah), which actually means “reliability, trustworthiness, dependability, steadiness.” We can easily see this from the first two places in the Hebrew Bible where the word appears: a) “His [Moses’] hands were emunah until the sunset” (Exodus 17:12); b) “The Rock… a God of emunah” (Deuteronomy 32:4). For this reason, English Bibles usually translate emunah as “faithfulness” or something similar. However, in rare cases they switch to the problematic translation “faith.” A famous example comes from Habakkuk 2:4: “The righteous shall live by his faith.” This English version gives the impression that if someone lives by trusting and believing, then he or she will be regarded as virtuous. However, the Hebrew meaning is very different, more like, “The person of justice lives in steadfast reliability.”
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The first-century Letter to the Hebrews is careful to emphasize this point. In quoting from Habakkuk, it uses Jewish-Greek πίστις (pistis) for Hebrew emunah.“My just one will live out of pistis/emunah [i.e., steadfast reliability]; and if he draws back [i.e., is not steadfastly reliable], then My soul will not take pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back… but rather those of pistis/emunah [i.e., who are indeed steadfastly reliable].” (Heb. 10:38-39)
This perspective sheds a lot of light on every passage where “faith” appears – including the very next verse, one of the most popular in the entire Bible. In the King James Version, Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A better translation would be, “And steadfast reliability is a foundation for what is hoped, a proving/testing of invisible realities.” The rest of the chapter then gives dramatic examples of people of justice who lived in steadfast reliability before God, thus bearing witness to Invisible Truth. That idea is not the same as “faith” in the sense of feeling an inner conviction and suppressing doubts about unprovable beliefs!
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