The language of faith or belief dominates evangelical language, culture, and the evangelical psyche itself. But have we misunderstood faith? Watered it down? Are we guilty of oversimplifying this layered concept? Respected Pauline scholar Nijay Gupta thinks so, making the case for faith/belief being much more nuanced to the New Testament authors and to their original hearers. The nuanced nature of the language of belief was something simply assumed by Paul’s earliest recipients, and yet it is far too often lost on modern believers.
At the outset of Paul and the Language of Faith, Gupta takes us through various layers of pistis (the Greek word often translated “faith” in English translations). These layers include believing faith, obeying faith (=faithfulness), and trusting faith. Far too often evangelicals are set on placing faith in just one of these categories: belief. This is disingenuous to faith in its original context.
In chapter 3 Gupta goes through pistis (the Greek word often translated “faith” in English translations) within Jewish and non-Jewish literature before expanding on this concept in the Gospels themselves (chapter 4). This was one of my favorite sections, not least when the author deals with Luke 18:1-8 and “The Parable of the Persistent Judge.” This text intrigues me, and I struggle with how to best translate “pistis” in this context: as persistence? Faithfulness? While Gupta does not give a definite answer per se, he does expand on various possibilities, explaining briefly and in layman’s terms what other scholars are saying.
What I most appreciate is the way Gupta comes across as even-handed and balanced, and cautious in his exegesis. After reading Paul and the Language of Faith, I am even more convinced that evangelicals tend to not fully grasp the nature of faith. I am also more persuaded that Protestants don’t always understand Paul and works.
What makes this new release valuable, among other things, is the way that Gupta exposes our tendency to think of faith/belief as a theme belonging only in the New Testament, to the neglect of the Hebrew Bible. Gupta also brings up great points when talking about the role of works in the life of a believer. Paul and the Language of Faith exposes the notion that faith in Jesus is merely passive.
While the language of faith pervades the evangelical imagination, as made clear in songs, sermons, and gospel presentations (and rightly so!), this very concept is also often greatly misunderstood. Paul and the Language of Faith is a huge step in the direction of correcting our oversimplification of belief.