Thursday, June 22, 2006

PISTIS: Lost in Translation?

I'm not going to enter the 'pistis [Iesou] Xpristou', debate here, but lexical questions about pistis arise in several places in the NT, Matthew included, and it's worth discussing. In a nutshell, the question is often asked whether the noun pistis should be translated "faith" (i.e., belief, trust) or 'faithfulness' (fidelity). Simliar questions attend the adjective (pistos and pisteuw), more so the verb than the adjective, which seems to be treated as 'faithful'. For those in the 'protestant' world, this might seem a strange question, and there seems to be among many a default to the 'belief' aspect of faith, vs. the fidelity. In fact, under the influence of Lutheranish Paulinism, 'fidelity' is frequently screened out in favor of 'belief', the latter being juxtaposed with 'works'.

In his recent commentary on Matthew, John Nolland notes (along with many other commentators) the similarity between
Micah 6:8 "do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God"
and the injunction to do the weightier matters of the Law in
Matthew 23:23 "justice, mercy, and pistis"
Nolland says that the background in Micah 6:8 suggests a "faith" translation here, analogous to Micah's "walk humbly with your God". His major argument for taking 'faith' is that Matthew always means pistis-as-belief when using the word elsewhere.

But the remainder of the uses of pistis in Matthew all come in the context of miracles; thus 23:23 should not necessarily be lined up with Matt's other (7) uses of pistis. Additionally, in the near context those who are pistos are the faithful ones doing what the Master requires (e.g., Matthew 24). Finally, "faith as faithfulness/fidelity" fits the Micah connection much better than "faith as belief/trust", since "walking" implies a life lived in faithfulness, more than "belief." Fourth, 'faithfulness' simply fits the context better than a denuded 'faith'.

I'm increasingly wondering whether we can in most instances actually separate the faith and faithfulness aspects of pistis and related words. Some exceptions might be the 'miracle'-related uses of pistis in Matthew. But the adjective pistos is probably always 'faithful'; and the implication seems to be that this is ultimately what is expected and required of God's people in the NT. I think it may be more profitable to lean toward a sort of de facto plenary reading of pistis in such passages, i.e., unless the context really does not call for 'faithfulness', as in the healing passages of Matthew.

Perhaps in this regard it is helpful to see James 2 and Hebrews 11 as lexical lessons: it ain't about 'raw belief', it's about praxis and fidelity. What do you all think? Should we see both aspects operating most of the time?

Apologies for the title. Is it just me, or does everyone use that phrase "lost in translation" now?


Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

Did ya see Australia draw with Croatia? That means the Aussies are in the last 16!!! Apparently the USA did not make it :-)

5:47 PM, June 22, 2006  
Blogger J. B. Hood said...

Didn't see it (I'm sure you didn't either!) but congrats. Let's make a bet, Jim West style. Soccerroos play Italy; the US tied them 1-1 while playing a man down, and looked the better team at times.

If Aussies win (inclduing tie, win by shootout; there are no ties/draws in the latter stages) I'll buy you, say, Bauckham's book on eyewitnesses and Gospels at SBL. And if they lose in regulation or lose in shootout, you buy it for me. Deal?!?

9:29 PM, June 22, 2006  

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