Emunah

emunah

What is Biblical Faith?    

Now FAITH is the SUBSTANCE of things hoped for, the EVIDENCE of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1 KJV)

According to the Book of Hebrews, faith has substance and evidence. It is not an abstract or intangible concept. The apostle Sh’aul (Paul)[1] had a lifetime of experience in 1st century Judaism. He used the Tanakh or Old Testament as his foundation in doctrine and theology. In other words, his understanding of “faith” had been clearly established in the Tanakh. It was not redefined in the Brit Chadashah or New Testament. This is why he then goes on in this passage to explain this “faith” to us starting with Bereshit or Genesis.

If we read Hebrews 11, we notice that each of the great men and women of faith have TWO things in common.

  1. They had faith.
  2. They acted upon that faith.

So, what was their “faith”? Many would assume their faith was their belief or trust in God, and this would be partially true. But if we allow the Scriptures to define this term, we will get a much fuller understanding of biblical faith and hopefully it will change our walk with the Master and the brethren and enrich our lives.

The Hebrew word most often translated as faith is emunah. Jeff Benner’s Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible[2] defines emunah as:

The Hebrew root aman means firm, something that is supported or secure. This word is used in Isaiah 22:23 for a nail that is fastened to a “secure” place. Derived from this root is the word emun meaning a craftsman. A craftsman is one who is firm and secure in his talent. Also derived from aman is the word emunah meaning firmness, something or someone that is firm in their actions. When the Hebrew word emunah is translated as faith misconceptions of its meaning occur. Faith is usually perceived as a knowing while the Hebrew emunah is a firm action. To have faith in God is not knowing that God exists or knowing that he will act, rather it is that the one with emunah will act with firmness toward God’s will.  AHLB# 1290-C (d1)

This is the same root for the word A-men; it means to affirm something or stand firm. It is also the root of the word emet, which is truth. Therefore biblical faith is firm and secure. Its actual foundation is truth. In other words, it is remaining steady and holding firm to that which is true. This truth to which we are to cling is not a mental assent to a set of propositions about God or the bible. Instead, it is clinging firmly to the faithfulness of God and His promises found in His Word, which is truth[3].

The difference may seem subtle, but it has far reaching implications. You see, our faith is not just a set of mental beliefs about God and/or the Bible. Faith is not encompassed by confessing or believing a particular creed or doctrine. Faith is much more than a proposition. It is a commitment to a promise: like those enumerated in Hebrews 11, we will live according to God’s commandments, trusting in God’s promises. In other words, biblical faith is faithfulness .

Real (biblical) faith produces action. This is why James could say:

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.  (18)  But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  (19)  You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.  (20)  But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?  (21)  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?  (22)  You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected… (Jam. 2:17-22  NASB)

James wasn’t proclaiming a works type salvation. He was speaking to those that had already been redeemed by the blood of Mashiach (Messiah). He also wasn’t declaring that works maintained one’s salvation. What James was very succinctly asserting is that, if a person has REAL faith, it will produce action or works. A mere mental assent or knowledge about God is not enough —– for even demons have that kind of faith. He then proceeds to give us examples of real biblical faith.

Hellenization[4] had already taken root by the time of the first century. In other words, the people of God had a few centuries in which their Hebraic culture had mixed and mingled with Greek culture, language, and thought. These two cultures were/are polar opposites. Many Brit Chadashah or New Testament writers had to combat this mixed mindset on a day to day basis.

James was making a distinction between the esteemed gnosis (knowledge) mindset that was proliferated within the Greek culture with the “doing” or action oriented culture of the Hebrews. The Hebrew is concerned with practice, the Greek with knowledge. Right conduct is the ultimate concern of the Hebrew, whereas right thinking is that of the Greek. To the Hebrew, a person acts out what they really believe. Unbelief, then is failing to act righteously. These concepts are all interconnected in a Hebraic mindset, whereas they are compartmentalized in Greek thought.

Many of the great theological debates that have raged throughout the centuries would finally find rest if God’s people embraced the Hebrew culture and mindset. After all, this is the people, language, culture, and setting He sovereignly chose to work through.

In light of all this, we see that faith is something we practice, not just agree with. Faith is exercised. It is something we use. It is something given to us by the Creator. It is a gift. Paul explains it this way in Ephesians:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  (9)  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  (10)  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10  NASB)

Notice first, that it is by God’s grace, His loving-kindness – His mercy, that we are saved through faith. It is through our faith — our active trust in God — that we are saved. The fact that we have this faith is because of God’s grace. It is a gift from the Creator. We cannot do something to earn this gift. However, as verse 10 clearly points out, this gift bestowed upon us —- through our faith—- will produce good works. This is how the saved will walk or live. If we proclaim that God has “saved” us, fruit (works) will be forthcoming. This is the nature of biblical faith.

Now FAITH is the SUBSTANCE of things hoped for, the EVIDENCE of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1 KJV)

Can you now see how faith has substance and evidence? Trusting in the promises and Word of God is what we hope for and the things we cannot see with the natural eye. Our actions (faith) are the substance and evidence. It is the things we say and do — because we trust. They are tangible. We use our 5 senses as we exercise our faith. We walk it out in our daily lives. Faith is our response to God.

A-men


[1] Or your choice for the writer of Hebrews.

[3] Ps. 119:42-44, 160, Jn. 17:17, 1 Jn. 3:18

[4] Hellenization (or Hellenisation) is the historical spread of ancient Greek culture or Hellenistic civilization, and, to a lesser extent, language, over foreign peoples conquered by Greece or in its sphere of influence, particularly during the Hellenistic period following the campaigns of Alexander the Great of Macedon. The result of Hellenization was that elements of Greek origin combined in various forms and degrees with local elements. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellenization

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