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This article discusses faith in a religious context. For other uses, see faith (disambiguation).

The best starting point, before digging into subjective human associations with the heavily-loaded word, is reviewing the dictionary definitions of faith.

The word faith has various uses; its central meaning is equivalent to "belief", "trust" or "confidence". As such, the object of faith can be either a person (or even an inanimate object or state of affairs) or a proposition (or body of propositions, such as a religious credo).

In religious contexts, "faith" has several different meanings. Sometimes, it means loyalty to one's religion. It is in the latter sense in which one can speak of, for example, "the Catholic faith" or "the Islamic faith." For creedal religions, faith also means that one accepts the religious tenets of the religion as true. For non-creedal religions, faith often means that one is loyal to a particular religious community.

Sometimes, faith means a commitment to a relationship with God. In this case, "faith" is used in the sense of "fidelity." Such a commitment need not be blind or submissive. For many Jews, for example, the Hebrew Bible and Talmud depict a committed but contentious relationship between God and the Children of Israel. For quite a lot of people, faith or the lack thereof, is an important part of their identities. E.g. a person will identify him or herself as a Muslim or a skeptic.

Many religious rationalists, as well as non-religious people, criticise implicit faith as being irrational. In this view, belief should be restricted to what is directly supportable by logic or evidence. Taken as a religious viewpoint itself, this worldview is Universist .

Sometimes, faith means a belief in the existence of God, and can be used to distingish individual belief in God from belief in God within religion. However it can also be used in context of belief in God within religions. Many Hindus, Jews, Christians and Muslims claim that there is adequate historical evidence of God's existence and God's interaction with human beings. As such, there is no need for "faith" in God in the sense of belief against or despite evidence; rather, they hold that evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that God certainly exists, and that particular beliefs, concerning who or what God is and why God is to be trusted, are vindicated by evidence and logic. For people in this category, "faith" in God simply means "belief that one has knowledge of God". It is logically impossible that all these different religions with their mutually contradictory beliefs can simultaneously be true. Therefore the majority of believers have faith in a belief system which is in some ways false, which they have difficulty describing at least. This is disputed though by some religious traditions especially in Hinduism who hold the view that the several different faiths are just aspects of the ultimate truth that the several religions have difficulty to describe and understand. They see the different religions as just different paths to the same goal. This does not explain away all logical contradictions between faiths but these traditions say that all seeming contradictions will be understood once a person has an experience of the Hindu concept of moksha.

What is believed concerning God, in this sense, is at least in principle only as reliable as the evidence and the logic by which faith is supported.

Finally, some religious believers -- and many of their critics -- often use the term "faith" as the affirmation of belief without an ongoing test of evidence, and even despite evidence apparently to the contrary. Most Jews, Christians and Muslims admit that whatever particular evidence or reason they may possess that God exists and is deserving of trust, is not ultimately the basis for their believing. Thus, in this sense faith refers to belief beyond evidence or logical arguments, sometimes called "implicit faith". Another form of this kind of faith is fideism: one ought to believe that God exists, but one should not base that belief on any other beliefs; one should, instead, accept it without any reasons at all. Faith in this sense, grounded simply in the sincerity of faith, belief on the basis of believing, is often associated with Søren Kierkegaard for example, and some other existentialist religious thinkers; his views are presented in Fear and Trembling. William Sloane Coffin counters that faith is not acceptance without proof, but trust without reservation.


Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew Bible the word emunah (Hebrew אמונה, "faith") does not mean belief in a dogmatic sense; it rather connotes:

  • faithfulness—from the passive form "ne'eman" = "trusted"; or "trustworthy"; or
  • confidence and trust in God and in God's word.

The Hebrew Bible also presents the relationship between God and the Children of Israel as a contentious commitment. For example, Abraham argues that God ought not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Moses criticizes God for treating the Children of Israel too harshly. This view of God as a partner with whom one must struggle is commemorated in the name "Israel," from the Hebrew word "to strive." Genesis 32: 24-30 tells the story of how God changed Jacob's name to Israel after he wrestled with and angel.


Jewish theology holds that belief in God is highly meritorious, but is not mandatory. While a person should believe in God, what matters most is if that person lives a decent life. Jewish rationalists, such as Maimonides, hold that faith in God, as such, is vastly inferior to coming to accept that God exists through compelling proofs. See the article on Jewish principles of faith for more details on Jewish theology.

New Testament

The word "faith", translated from the Greek πιστις (pi´stis), primarily conveys the thought of confidence, trust, firm persuasion. Depending on the context, the Greek word may also be understood to mean "faithfulness" or "fidelity".-1Th 3:7; Tit 2:10.

Commenting on the function of faith in relation to the covenant of God, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."(Heb 11:1 ESV). Πιστις, translated "faith" here, commonly appears in ancient papyrus business documents , conveying the idea that a covenant is an exchange of assurances which guarantees the future transfer of possessions described in the contract. In view of this, Moulton and Milligan suggest the rendering: "Faith is the title deed of things hoped for." (Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, 1963, p. 660) Hebrews 11:6 further illustrates the meaning and the practical role of faith: "without faith it is impossible to please [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.".

Summarizing the New Testament concept of faith, it is a reliance upon God's self-revelation, especially in the sense of confidence in the promises and fear of the threats that are written in Scripture. The writers evidently suppose that their concept of faith is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures.

In addition, the New Testament writers conflate or equate faith in God with belief in Jesus. The Gospel of John is particularly emphatic on this point, having Jesus say, "The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him." (John 5:22, 23). When asked "What must we do to do the works God requires?", the writer has Jesus answering, ""The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:28, 29)


In the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: "Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel". The object of saving faith is the whole revealed Word of God. Faith accepts and believes it as the very truth most sure. But the special act of faith which unites to Christ has as its object the person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 7:38; Acts 16:31). This is the specific act of faith by which a sinner is justified before God (Rom. 3:22, 25; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:9; John 3:16-36; Acts 10:43; 16:31).

Faith is a kind of knowledge

Knowledge is an essential element in all faith, and is sometimes spoken of as an equivalent to faith (John 10:38; 1 John 2:3). Yet the two are distinguished in this respect, that faith includes in it assent, which is an act of the will in addition to the act of the understanding.

Faith is an operation of the Spirit of God

Assent to the truth is of the essence of faith, and the ultimate ground on which our assent to any revealed truth rests is the veracity of God. Historical faith is the apprehension of and assent to certain statements which are regarded as mere facts of history. Temporary faith is that state of mind which is awakened in men (e.g., Felix) by the exhibition of the truth and by the influence of religious sympathy, or by what is sometimes styled the common operation of the Holy Spirit. Saving faith is so called because it has eternal life inseparably connected with it, and is a special operation of the Holy Spirit.

The warrant of faith is the truthfulness of God

The basis for faith is divine testimony , not the reasonableness of what God says, but the simple fact that he says it. Faith rests immediately on, "Thus saith the Lord." But in order to this faith the veracity, sincerity, and truth of God must be owned and appreciated, together with his unchangeableness .

[Text adapted from Easton's Bible Dictionary ]

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