Thursday, May 27, 2010


There are several words in my Twitter “Day Texts” which are different from what you might find in other translations. This is because, while I make no special claims about any of my translations, I do believe I have good reasons for moving away from some of the more commonly found or accepted renderings for pistis (the Greek word often translated “faith,” “belief,” or “trust),” to what I have used in certain of my Day Texts, namely (for pistis), “belief(s) based on good reasons.”

In explaining why I chose to use this expression rather than one or more of most common single-word translations for pistis (several of which are noted above), consider the Day Text for May 14, 2010, from James 2:14-17 (with underlining added, though bracketed comments are original to the Day Text):

My brothers, what good can come from someone who may say he or she believes for good reasons, but does not have the works to show it? Beliefs based on good reasons [or, ‘faith,’ ‘trust,’ which must be based on good reasons] will not save a person. If your brother or your sister are in need of clothing and have too little food for each day, and if a certain one of you might say, “Go your way in peace, be warm, and eat until you are satisfied,” but you do not give them what they need to be safe and satisfied, what is the point? In the same way, belief based on good reasons [or, ‘faith’], if it does not have works, then it is dead to itself.

The underlined portions of the above are my renderings of three separate occurrences of the one Greek word, pistis. As I noted at the beginning of this Blog, pistis is often translated correctly into English as “faith,” “belief,” and “trust.” Though all of these words accurately represent how pistis can be translated according to its use in the New Testament and in other early Greek literature, consider the following meanings for pistis as given in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition, edited and revised by Frederick W. Danker (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 818-820:

1. that which evokes trust and faith

a.      the state of being someone in whom confidence can be placed, faithfulness, reliability, fidelity, commitment ...

b.      a solemn promise to be faithful and loyal, assurance, oath, troth ...

c.       a token offered as a guarantee of someth. promised, proof, pledge ...

2. state of believing on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted, trust, confidence, 
    faith in the active sense=‘believing’,

a.     God: ... faith, trust, confidence in God 

b.   Christ - a. of belief and trust in the Lord’s help in physical and spiritual distress;

3. that which is believed, body of faith/belief/teaching

It is clear from the above, from the uses of pistis in James 2:14-17 (quoted above), and from numerous other uses of pistis in the New Testament that pistis is one word but which may require more than one corresponding word to fully or even fairly express the meaning in another language, such as English. With the above definitions in mind, let us go back to James 2:14-17 (my above quoted, May 14, 2010, Day Text) and look at the two occurrences of pistis in verse 14, as well as the final occurrence of pistis in verse 17.

In James 2:14 pistis is used, but it is set apart from “works” to show that pistis itself “will not save a person,” that is, if it “does not have the works to show it.” Then in verses 15-16 James gives an example of a person with pistis, who has the belief or trust that the person who is in need will receive what he or she needs, but who does not actually give the person “what they need to be safe and satisfied, [so] what is the point?” James concludes the matter in verse 17, noting that pistis must have “works” to reveal this “faith” or “trust,” otherwise it does not actually exist as a ‘living,’ ‘savingpistis. Without “works,” pistis is “dead.”

But why “beliefs based on good reasons”? Why not simply “belief(s),” “trust,” or “faith”?

Consider now the uses not only of the noun pistis, but also of the related verb pisteu’o, in verses 18-20 of James Chapter 2, according to my own translation which I will explain below, in furtherance of this question involving the meaning and translation of pistis:

But someone will say, “You have beliefs based on good reasons [or, ‘faith’], and I have works. Show me your beliefs based on good reasons apart from works, and I will show you my beliefs based on good reasons by means of my works.” You believe for good reasons that God is one, so you are well prepared. But evil spirits [or, ‘demons’] believe for good reasons and yet they tremble with fear. But are you willing to recognize, O foolish man, that beliefs based on good reasons [or, ‘faith’] apart from works is useless? [Taken from the Elihu Books’ Twitter “Day Text” translation for May 27, 2010.]

Clearly, the pistis of the “evil spirits”/“demons” is not a “trust,” or a “faith,” such as those who are not “evil” by intent may have in “God” as “one,” in as much as to “tremble with fear” is a reaction or a condition resulting from the lack of “works” which (should) correspond to the “belief”/“faith” of even “evil spirits,” or “demons,” namely, that “God is one” (at least according to James). This is consistent with what else the Bible teaches, for “spirits” and “angels” according to the Bible know their Father.—Hebrews 1:10; 12:9; 1 Peter 3:19-20; 1:6; compare Mark 3:11; 5:12.

However, there are no discernible, corresponding “works” associated with the pistis of “evil spirits” (thus, they are said to be “evil”), though it is unclear if such ones would/could be moved to, in fact, make their belief consistent with the appropriate, corresponding “works” and thereby show more their belief for good reasons, indeed, show by works a trusting “faith” in “God” as “one.” In any case, it is clear that here in James 2:19, in this context of a larger discussion about “faith” and “works,” the demons have only “beliefs based on good reasons.” They do not have “faith,” or “trust,” not unless it can be shown by their “works” (James 2:14-17), though they do “believe” (Greek form of pistue’o).

Still, it is clear all three (“faith,” “trust,” and “beliefs based on good reasons”) require corresponding “works” to please “God,” hence, “the evil spirits … tremble with fear,” even though they do “believe,” that is, they understand accurately the “belief” about “God” as “one.” It is the same with each and every single one of us who may have “good reasons for belief,” but not the works corresponding to the beliefs we accurately hold or should understand, that is, if we add things up along our way through life.—Compare Psalm 8:3-4; Acts 10:34-36; Hebrews 3:4; Revelation 4:11.

We may have equally good and sure reasons for belief about God, just as his ‘evil sons’ have reasons for their belief (they have lived with and seen their Father [compare Genesis 1:26 (“us”); Job 38:7; Hebrews 1:10; 12:9]). According to how they are viewed, “evil spirits” simply do not have the works to complement their beliefs, beliefs which are based on the best available reasons. So, again, we can have beliefs that are clear, but if we do not have the works to show we truly do accept and trust in what we have good reasons to believe, then our pistis “cannot save.”—James 2:14.

With this in mind, let us go back to several of the main readings from the above quoted Third Edition of A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature:

1. that which evokes trust and faith

Could anything which truly “evokes trust and faith” be based on anything but “good reasons,” or on what the person believed (at the time) to be based on good reasons? True, what we think are good reasons for a particular belief may turn out not to be. But the question in terms of “faith” or “belief” is whether you are/were in a position to learn more about the best available reasons before allowing them to build up your trust/faith in a particular subject/issue? “Faith” or “belief” itself, apart from what are considered to be good reasons, could only be an assumption and an assumption is never a good reason unless, as it is sometimes used, “assumption” means “belief based on good reasons” (this can be determined by the context of the use of ‘assume’). But the thing(s) which “evokes trust and faith” is not “trust and faith”! Rather, it is the beliefs which are either based on good reasons, the best available, or not.

2. state of believing on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted, trust, confidence, faith

“On the basis of the reliability of the one [or of the good reasons] trusted.” The “state of believing” is not the pistis (“faith” / “belief[s] based on good reasons”) alone. Rather this “state of believing” includes (is founded on, in fact [see 1., above]) the beliefs which have been formed “on the basis of” a person, thing, or because of some other good reasons. These good-reason-based beliefs are what then bring about the ‘state of belief,’ which includes both demons and Christians, but who are then differentiated by their “works,” which “works” (not our beliefs or “faith,” or even the state which they bring about in us) then show we either trust in ourselves, in others, or in Jah God and in Jesus of Nazareth. And so James teaches us this about Abraham’s “faith,” or “beliefs based on good reasons,” and his “works”:

James 2:21-24 (New Revised Standard Version [1989])

Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

3. that which is believed, body of faith/belief/teaching

Anyone you know who with conviction puts forth his or her beliefs will almost never do so unless the person believes the basis for the beliefs, or the supporting good reasons, are not only “good” but (hopefully) the best available. These reasons do not always have to be evident by sight (compare Hebrews 11:1). There are many things we do not directly “see” but which we believe exist (wind, gases, various microorganisms, and even for many the existence of extra terrestrials [non-spirit types]). Yet, there must be some “evident demonstration” (NWT), something which caused belief in the subject to come up in the first place, and so also whether we are supposed to believe it in association with “what is seen.”—Hebrews 11:3.

Still, there must be good reasons, the best available, otherwise we are talking science fiction, or using our imagination, not considering what is truly demonstrable or according to good reasons. If we apply this test to ourselves, we will see that in other areas of life we are guided by the best (or what we think are the best) available reasons, such as when we decide to pass through a traffic intersection. Though none of us know for sure what will happen when we go through it, we proceed anyway, even taking our lives in our own hands, perhaps every day, but for good reasons.

We do not always act consistently with the best available reasons. In most instances where this is the case, I believe this to be “sin,” essentially, for anyone who acts in a way that God would not act or encourage is, in effect, claiming to know better than the God who made us and who permits us all of our choices. Yet, if any of our chosen ways were "better" than what God intended for us, would not God have intended it for us? Of course, there are many things we do while still learning and growing as humans. But what choice of any man or woman has stood up over time and can tell us about the end after we are through, now after over 6,000 years, so that we should fail to seriously consider the possible (likely) judgment upon our death, according to our works?

The pyramids have been robbed. The temples of the ancient Americas are gone, or no longer in any use. The Goseck Circle is there, but only a trace. And what is here now will come to be just as these other places have become, regardless of how they once were, or how they were once thought of by others. Their beliefs were either good-reason based, or something else. So, too, will it prove to be for each one of our generations, or so I and others far greater than I have seen, and so we, too, believe(d).—Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.

Yet, this must then be shown or proven to whatever extent is possible, reasonably, similar to how we already make other important decisions in life, as reasoning creatures. Through this process of evaluating good reasons we, ultimately, determine what to believe, or what to keep believing, and what no longer to believe if we have progressed in our pistis, which can be shown by what we do, and by how treat others, since we should be consistent in both.

There are always exceptions. But I'm talking about belief(s), faith, something we can trust in because of having available the best reasons, or because they are there to find. It starts out that way for each one of us, and then comes and goes as we come and go through life. Yet, it is unavoidable: We have beliefs. We have faith. We trust many people, and in many things. Usually, if not always but certainly most often, we do so because of the best available reasons, or because of what we perceive (hopefully also for good reasons!) them to be.

Humans can and should try to achieve an increasing, individual consistency, which can then be tested against or in comparison with the beliefs, with the supporting good reasons, and with the resulting “works” or actions of others. Then each individual can determine if any correction is warranted, if any improvement can be reasonably made, or if something can be done to help bring about a greater good for all, and why not to Jah’s praise?

Ultimately, as a Christian, a person will accept his or her failures, keep working at doing good to others, and so also thereby to ourselves, for what we send out comes back (compare Matthew 12:35-37). A Christian tries his or her best to show “faith” in Jesus of Nazareth by our “works,” just as we try to do with every other belief we have which is also based on the best available reasons. In so doing, we do not think we “earn” forgiveness for the errors we have made while existing on this earth in God’s image. We do ask for, we do hope for, and we do pray for forgiveness, according to our “faith,” or beliefs based on good reasons, which should be shown by and which should be consistent with our “works.”

The ultimate test for any belief, for any good reason, or for any “work” is whether you would accept it yourself, and so use it to measure others (compare Matthew 7:1-2). This is, in fact, what it means to be a Christian or to have pistis shown by works in following the “Golden Rule,” given by Jesus of Nazareth. If this is who you are, or whom you try to be, and if you also praise Jah God at the same time for his expressly evident, intentionally intelligent designs (including the demonstrably intelligent intent in our use of “time” and in the division of human language), then you are a Christian Witness of Jah, or Jah’s Christian witness.—Psalms 149 and 150; Revelation 19:1, 3, 4, 6.