Belief - Part 2

Habakkuk 2:1-4; Romans 1:7-17, The upright will live by faith

Luke 16:1-12, The Parable of the Unjust Steward

John 1:1-14, John the Baptist's purpose was to bring about belief

John 5:30-47, Not everybody believed John, however

John 3:1-18, Nicodemus was puzzled about what to believe

Mark 11:11-14, 19-33, Signs, prayer, belief in God, and not believing John

James 1:1-17, Testing of faith is not the same as temptation

John 7:31-52, The Pharisees and authorities did not believe in Jesus

Luke 8:40-56, Faith leads to healing

Mark 2:1-12, Faith leads to healing

Luke 17:5-19, Faith leads to empowerment as well as healing

Thessalonians 3:1-10, Paul rejoiced to hear about the Thessalonians' faith

Kings 12:1-15, "faithfully"

Numbers 12:1-15, "to be faithful"

Psalms 89:19-37, "faithfulness"

Proverbs 20:6; Luke 19:12-27, "faithful"

Matthew 6:30, 8:23-27, 14:26-31, 16:8-11a, "O-you-little-faiths" - believerettes? faithlings?

Mark 16:9-16, "disbelieve"

1 Timothy 5:3-16, "believing"

Acts 5:12-15; 1 Timothy 4:12-14, "believer"

1 Corinthians 7:12-16, 14:22-23, "unbelieving" or "unbeliever" (often translated faithless)

2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5, "belief" (usually translated faith everywhere else)

More of Belief

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Habakkuk 2:1-4; Romans 1:7-17, The upright will live by faith (10/27/22)

The prophet Ezekiel tells us that righteousness leads to life (Ezekiel 3:21*), but unfortunately for most of us, righteousness is a commodity that's in pretty short supply. Remember that Abraham's faith was counted as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). The prophet Habakkuk combines, or maybe builds on, both these ideas to tell us, "The righteous shall live by faith," and that's part of the good news, or gospel, that Paul wants to come and share with the Romans.

By the way, just about every time you see "as it is written" in the New Testament, the Old Testament is the place where it is written. A Bible with cross references will normally give you the scripture reference.

(* I should have saved this for October 31, because Ezekiel 3:16-21 is scary reading for preachers and Bible teachers.)

Luke 16:1-12, The Parable of the Unjust Steward (10/28/22)

I usually keep an eye on workers when they are in my house, but if I have to run an errand while my housekeeper is here, I just leave, asking her to lock the door on her way out. Why? If there's a penny on the floor when my housekeeper sweeps, she picks it up and puts it on the table.

The Parable of the Unjust Steward can be puzzling, because Jesus seems to admire the dishonest manager. What? Why? I like the CEV's translation here, because it answers the question by using "trusted" in place of "faithful." The manager was embezzling from his boss; he wasn't trustworthy in his position of authority. When he gets caught, he shows that he also isn't trustworthy as he leaves. He takes a few small bills and alters them to make friends with some of his boss's debtors. Jesus' point isn't that this is admirable; his point is that our behavior is often consistent. If we are dishonest in small ways, no one is likely to think we'll be honest in ways that matter. If we are trustworthy in small things, people - and God - are more likely to consider us trustworthy in larger things.

And by the way, all the trust- words in the CEV are coming from our belie(f)-/faith- root. Remember the diagram that we saw the first day.

John 1:1-14, John the Baptist's purpose was to bring about belief (10/31/22)

Let me say a couple of words about translation, which ranges from word-for-word to paraphrase. Word-for-word can be really difficult, for reasons we have discussed at length before, but briefly, the same word can mean different things in different contexts, or there may not even be an equivalent word in the target language. Paraphrase typically adds explanatory material that isn't in the original text without telling the reader, or it can make other substantial alterations. Somewhere in the middle is "dynamic translation." Dynamic translation tries to give the idea of the original text in the target language, e.g., if I were to translate denarius as, say, "a silver dollar." The Contemporary English Version is a dynamic translation. This is why you have probably noticed that it often has different turns of phrase from what you are used to. Now, sometimes a new turn of phrase irritates me, I admit. But more often I say, "Hmm. I never thought about it that way before."

In the passage we're reading today, probably what you are used to is (just about word-for-word) "He [John] came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him... But to all who did receive him, who believed in his [Jesus'] name, he gave the right to become children of God." What you see in the CEV is "God sent a man named John, who came to tell about the light and to lead all people to have faith... Yet some people accepted him and put their faith in him. So he gave them the right to be the children of God." So, hmm. First, believe = have faith, and believed = put faith in. Second, John wasn't just making it possible for us to believe, he was the very first person ever to preach about Jesus. He was leading us to put our faith in Jesus. That isn't a word-for-word translation, but it sure gives us new insight into what John was sent to accomplish.

John 5:30-47, Not everybody believed John, however (11/01/22)

By now, you are undoubtedly wondering why we see the same Greek or Hebrew word translated so many different ways. English is the kleptomaniac of languages. Britannica says that English has taken words form more than 350 languages. Partly for this reason, English has roughly a million words in its vocabulary, and biblical Greek has maybe 10,000, if you count both the Old and New Testament. (I've never seen the exact number for both together, but the NT has just under 6,000.) And on top of that, we're all trained from infancy not to use the same word over and over if we can substitute a different one.

Consequently, we see the same Greek verb translated both "I-believe" and "I-have-faith," and we see a different Greek verb, "I-have" used with a related noun also translated "I-have faith." The overall meaning is the same, but the English may slightly blur the writer's distinction - if any! - between the action "I-believe" and the result "I-have-faith."

Today we see something entirely different in translation: "believe" used in place of "have abiding in." Again, the message is just about the same.

We also see in vss. 45-47 that you can "believe" scripture or "believe" a person. I might say to a friend, "Go for it! I have faith in you!" I don't think my friend is going to save me, however. There's a spectrum of faith, and you have to read the context carefully to see where a particular verse is on the spectrum.

There are two take-aways for today: First, believe = have faith, but second, have faith doesn't always mean to trust with your immortal soul.

Mark 11:11-14, 19-33, Signs, prayer, belief in God, and not believing John (11/02/22)

As my Greek teacher used to say, "Context, context, context!" In this particular chapter of Mark, we have to consider both what I would call "micro-context" and "macro-context." The "have faith" in vss. 23-24 and the "believe" in vs. 31 are exactly the same word in Greek. Nevertheless, the micro-context tells us that two slightly different kinds of believing are in play - complete belief that God will give us positive answers to our prayers, vs. ordinary, everyday belief that someone is or isn't telling the truth. The translator may have been trying to reflect this by using two different English expressions, or he may just have gotten tired of using the same expression over and over.

We have trouble with vss. 22-24, though. Sometimes we pray with complete confidence, and what we pray for does not come to pass. Here's where the macro-context comes into play. First, are we praying in the name of Jesus (John 14:13)? The "name" is the person: would Jesus pray for this? Second, is what we're praying for in line with the will of God (Matthew 26:42)? And finally, would God have to cross the will of another person in order to give us what we want? - because that isn't going to happen (Matthew 23:37).

For a longer discussion of this conundrum, see Sometimes the answer is "No".

John 3:1-18, Nicodemus was puzzled about what to believe (11/03/22)

I really hate it when software tries to "help" me by making decisions that I would rather make for myself. Sometimes I get the same kind of feeling about translators. In English, we can have "do" and "doer" for just about every action verb, right? Run/runner, fighter/fighter, swim/swimmer, etc. The same is true in Greek. When believe/believer is translated believe/one who has faith in the same passage, the translator has "helped" the reader by deciding that the two words represent different ideas. Maybe so, maybe no, but the reader doesn't get to decide. Still, translators have a hard job, and I guess we should cut them some slack.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus and says, "Your works show that God has sent you." Apparently, Jesus thinks, "Wow! This guy really gets it!," because he decides to teach Nicodemus some higher-level material. Unfortunately, Nicodemus doesn't get that. Just as we saw yesterday, the translator - but not the Greek! - distinguishes between ordinary belief that someone is speaking the truth and faith in God. However, the two Greek words used throughout this passage are a verb and its noun form: believe and believer (one-who-has-faith). It's clear from context that in vss. 13-18, the believer, here rendered as one-who-has-faith (my hyphens), believes in God. You have to decide for yourself whether believe in vss. 12 and 18b means ordinary, everyday believing or believing in God.

James 1:1-17, Testing of faith is not the same as temptation (11/04/22)

My grandson just passed the test for a driver's license. Tests have two purposes. An upcoming test gives you an incentive to study. He went to driver's ed school, he drove 50 hours with a licensed adult, and he reviewed the rules of the road before taking the test. The test itself examines what you know or what you know how to do and certifies the results; the driver's test established that he knows how to drive, and he has a license to prove it. We need to look at the testing of our faith in the same way, because that's exactly what the word means: is our faith good enough to pass the examination and be certified? This is why James says to be happy when we have trials or temptations. They give us opportunities both to improve our faith in advance of the exam and to check on our progress toward certification.

It's important, however, to remember that God hasn't sent the trials and temptations. God only sends good gifts, and we are responsible for our own temptations.

John 7:31-52, The Pharisees and authorities did not believe in Jesus (11/07/22)

John continually draws attention to the contrast between those who believe in Jesus and those who don't. In vss. 31-32, many people believe because of his works (recall that this was what brought Nicodemus to Jesus), but the Pharisees don't.

In vss. 37-44, those who believe will later receive the Spirit, as John explains, and already believe him to be the Prophet or the Christ, and others don't. There is irony here, since the ones who don't believe reject him because he isn't from Bethlehem!

Finally, in vss. 45-52, the soldiers and Nicodemus are on the verge of belief, but the Pharisees aren't, this time on the grounds that no prophet comes from Galilee, which is also mistaken, but then, they didn't have Wikipedia.

Luke 8:40-56, Faith leads to healing (11/08/22)

One day Jesus performed two reported miracles of healing, one on purpose and one by accident. In both cases, it is faith that permits or leads to the healing. The woman's faith, coupled with touching Jesus' garment, heals her. The faith of the little girl's father, coupled with Jesus' touch, heals the child. This can be a difficult and troubling passage for people who are not healed, or for the parents of children who are not healed. Is their faith not strong enough? Is God biased against them? What's going on here?

Well, I don't know, but I'll give you some ideas to think about. First, many, possibly most, of the miracles worked by Jesus were not only for the sick person, but were also meant to inspire others to faith. They were "signs of the kingdom," and they were specific to Jesus' earthly ministry. Could these two healings have fallen into that category? We don't know who in the crowd saw or heard about these miracles and came to faith. Second, we need to be careful about vending-machine theology: I put faith in, and I get healing out. It doesn't work that way. If we put faith in, we know God will be with us no matter what happens, especially when what happens is exactly the opposite of what we want. Who has more faith in God than Jesus? And yet, in the garden of Gethsemane, he wasn't rescued miraculously from the crucifixion in spite of his urgent and repeated prayer. Finally, think about why we call them "miracles." It's because they don't automatically happen, and they're rare.

Mark 2:1-12, Faith leads to healing (11/09/22)

Mark gives us another example of the connection between faith and healing. We're all familiar with the story, so I will just point out a couple of things that seem to be particularly pertinent to our study on belief. First, notice how Mark distinguishes between "they" - the friends - and "the paralytic" in vss. 3 and 4. "They" brought the paralytic; "they" couldn't get near because of the crowd; "they" took off the roof; and "they" let down the bed. It's clear that "the paralytic" wasn't among "them," because he couldn't have done any of these actions. Then in vs. 5, Jesus sees their faith and forgives the man's sins! This is an extremely important point: we must never stop praying for or helping other persons, because our faith can help Jesus to heal them.

Second, remember what I said yesterday about some miracles being meant to inspire faith? This may be the clearest example we have. What does Jesus say?
"Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - he said to the paralytic -"I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home."
He has already taken care of the man's most serious problem by forgiving his sins. In working the miracle of healing, Jesus is addressing the most serious problem of some of the onlookers, disbelief! Vs. 12 shows that they got the point.

Luke 17:5-19, Faith leads to empowerment as well as healing (11/10/22)

Luke's goal was to write an "orderly account" (Luke 1:3), so I'm pretty sure he had something in mind when he wrote about the power of faith in vss. 5-6, the impossibility of doing more kingdom work than required in vss. 7-10, and the Samaritan leper whose faith made him well in vss. 11-19.

Unfortunately, I have no clue what he had in mind with this structure, so I'm going to let John Wesley talk about vss. 7-10. This is from Wesley's Articles of Religion, which are among the central tenets of Methodism:
Article 11 - Of Works of Supererogation
Voluntary works - besides, over and above God's commandments - which they call works of supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake than of bounden duty is required; whereas Christ saith plainly: When you have done all that is commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants.

Thessalonians 3:1-10, Paul rejoiced to hear about the Thessalonians' faith (11/11/22)

Paul almost always had several people with him as he traveled: Barnabas, John Mark, Timothy, Luke, Silvanus, and several others were among his companions on this trip or that. It's a mark of his concern for the Thessalonians that he was willing to send Timothy to Thessalonica while he stayed in Athens alone. He had only been in Thessalonica for three weeks, and there was trouble for the new believers during that time (Acts 17:1-10). Paul was naturally concerned that their brand-new faith would wither as quickly as it had sprung up, and he rejoiced that this was not the case.

On the other hand, remember that faith = belief, and the Thessalonians were a little confused about what to believe. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, we see that they were worried that anyone who died before Jesus' return would not participate in the resurrection. They were apparently so focused on "end times" (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) that some of them figured there was no point continuing to work (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). No wonder Paul was eager to get back to Thessalonica to straighten them out (vs. 10).

Kings 12:1-15, "faithfully" (11/14/22)

I'm sure that you have occasionally done something as a good-faith gesture in advance of a final agreement. This, of course, has nothing to do with faith in God, but rather is a sign that another person can believe that you will do what you say you will. This is the sense of faithfully in vs. 15, and in fact some modern translations use honestly or could be trusted.

There's an interesting contrast between the priests, who took the money but didn't repair the temple, and the workmen, who also took the money but did repair the temple, even though no one asked them for an accounting. They dealt faithfully.

Numbers 12:1-15, "to be faithful" (11/15/22)

Do you remember what Moses said in front of the burning bush? "Whom shall I say has sent me?" At the time of the Exodus, the children of Israel barely knew who God was, so we are not surprised to learn that Moses "is faithful in all my house." Sad, huh? A million or so Israelites, and one was faithful. Fortunately, God was willing to use that one person to rescue the rest of them.

Opinion is divided about why Miriam was made leprous and Aaron was not, because the reason is not given. John Wesley says she may have been the chief transgressor, or God may not have wanted worship interrupted, which it would have been if the priest Aaron had been leprous. Your guess is as good as anybody's, but no better, so don't argue about it.

Psalms 89:19-37, "faithfulness" (11/16/22)

Just as God loves us before we love God (1 John 4:19), God is faithful to us "unto all generations" (Psalms 119:90), presumably even generations that are not faithful to God. (Pay particular attention to vss. 30-33. God's faithfulness doesn't protect us from punishment we have earned by apostasy.) This particular psalm is about God's relationship with David and his house, but the part about God's faithfulness would be the same for any of us.

Proverbs 20:6; Luke 19:12-27, "faithful" (11/17/22)

We're still looking at the same Hebrew and Greek roots that we saw earlier; they mean faith-, belie(ve), or sometimes trust-. Today's scriptures have the adjective faithful, and in both cases, the context suggests that it means - here - trustworthy, in the ordinary sense.

Jesus' parables tend to get darker and more foreboding as time goes by. Now he is on his way to Jerusalem for the last time, where it is clear to him there will be a final confrontation with the religious leaders. There are two versions of the Parable of the Talents. Here in Luke, the citizens who did not want the nobleman as their king are slaughtered in his sight, and the third servant receives no reward. In Matthew 25, the citizens are missing, and the third servant is cast into outer darkness. My own feeling is that Jesus probably told the story on various occasions, changing the details. The point is the same, however: be profitable and trustworthy, or else.

Isn't it interesting that there were banks, places you could take your savings and earn interest on them? First-century Judean banks were apparently tables, not buildings, but the idea was exactly the same. I've always wondered how that practice could be reconciled with Deuteronomy 23:19-20, which forbids the taking of interest.

Matthew 6:30, 8:23-27, 14:26-31, 16:8-11a, "O-you-little-faiths" believerettes? faithlings? (11/18/22)

We didn't use "O ye of little faith" in our study of common phrases from the Bible, but I hear it often, so maybe we should have. In Greek it's all one word - believerettes? faithlings? - made from our usual Greek root pist-. We're usually joking when we say it, but Jesus wasn't. He uses it to criticize his disciples when they are anxious, afraid, or confused and doubtful. Have confidence in God, and don't be a little-faith.

Mark 16:9-16, "disbelieve" (11/21/22)

Disbelieve occurs only seven times in the Greek NT, and even less often in English translations. Two of the originals are here in Mark, as shown in the World English Bible.

This little passage from Mark, known as the "long ending," contrasts belief (Mary and the two on the road) and disbelief (the disciples) in a way that I normally associate with John, but it wasn't written by either Mark or John. We don't know who did write it. See those double brackets? That means it's not a part of Mark's original text, although - and this is important - it is part of the canonical text. (That means it's scripture.) We don't know what happened to Mark's ending after his last words, vs. 8. Either he got interrupted, e.g., by death, before he could write it, or it got lost very early, before it could ever be copied.
Skippable Trivia: I asked my Greek teacher if, assuming that Mark's ending could be found, the Church would have to vote on whether it is canonical. He thought that, no, if the scholars who work to determine what the earliest and best Greek text is - who are called "textual critics" - decided to put it in, it would automatically be canonical, because Mark's Gospel in its entirety is part of the canon. The short ending and long ending would also remain canonical.

1 Timothy 5:3-16, "believing" (11/22/22)

First-century widows without children or grandchildren to take them in were in a world of hurt, with no income and sometimes no property. I gather from Acts 6:1 and from what Paul says that the very early Church had a solution: enroll them, make sure they are taken care of, and set them to praying! I think the modern Church is missing a bet by not enrolling these prayer warriors officially.

Not just any old lady could be enrolled as a widow. She had to meet the age requirement, to have a sterling reputation, and to have no immediate family. Even if she had believing relatives - say, a sister or niece - they were supposed to take care of her.

Acts 5:12-15; 1 Timothy 4:12-14, "believer" (11/23/22)

I was on a plane once, reading the New Testament, and the fellow next to me asked, "Are you a believer?" The use of believer to mean someone with faith in Jesus Christ began in the first few years after the resurrection and continues today.

1 Corinthians 7:12-16, 14:22-23, "unbelieving" or "unbeliever" (often translated faithless) (11/24/22)

Just as we saw in the long ending of Mark, Paul distinguishes between believers and unbelievers. Paul's opinions on divorce are somewhat different from those of both Moses (Deuteronomy 24:1-5) and Jesus (Matthew 5:31-32), which is why he says, "I - not the Lord - say..."

2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5, "belief" (usually translated faith everywhere else) (11/25/22)

One of my profs in grad school wouldn't let us say that we believed some fact or other. He insisted that one believes in God and thinks about facts. Apparently quite a few translators make a similar distinction in vs. 13, where the King James and many others have "belief in the truth." This is the only use of the English belief in the entire KJV or ESV, because in English, we have trouble having faith in the truth. Greek has the same word in 2:13 and 3:2. Try not to base your belief or faith on any one word or verse in any translation, even in the Bible.

More of Belief
Belief - Part 1
Belief - Part 3

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