Q & A – Three Part Question from Andrea

Where did the word "faith" originate?

Is faith strictly a Christian concept?

What is the relationship between faith and reason?





While researching for a paper on "faith and reason" for a philosophy of religion class I found so many contrary teachings and it has left me utterly confused. I wrote the paper and reflected the divided information, never able to find a real answer. Perhaps you can shed some light on the subject for me. The first two questions I never found an answer for. The third question left me exhausted with information and opinion.


Where did the word "faith" originate? Is it strictly a Christian concept? What is the relationship between faith and reason?






Hello Andrea~


I understand how very exhausting and overwhelming it is to research information online.  Perhaps I can help by keeping things simple.  To answer these questions succinctly requires that I not deviate from the genesis of the ancient languages in which the Old and New Testaments were written.  In other words, I will define “faith” from the meanings and applications of the Hebrew language (OT) and the Greek language (NT). 



QUESTION #1 – Where did the word "faith" originate?


ANSWER #1 The word faith (as a noun) in our modern English is derived from the Latin word, fides, and fido, (meaning faith & to trust).  The Latin word is derived from Greek words, pístis pisteúo.  This of course is not a scholarly answer, but it is quick and to the point. 


The etymology of the word(s) used for “faith” in a Judeo-Christian context actually extends back in time many centuries, originating first from the Hebrew language and then later in a much more widespread use in Greek.  In the Old Testament (the King James Version) the Hebrew word translated as “faith” occurs only twice: Deuteronomy 32:20 (Hebrew word = 'eemun); Habakkuk 2:4 (Hebrew word = 'emunah).  Other Bible versions, such as the NASB render this word more accurately as, “faithfulness.”


As you may or may not be aware, the English language is a hodge-podge mixture of a variety of different languages, including Latin, Greek, Germanic, Slavic, Sanskrit, etc.  To trace the origins of the word “faith” from all these sources would be a daunting task indeed. 


The closest relative transliteration to our English word for “faith” I could find in researching this for you is the 13th century; Havelok the Dane used a word that sounds almost identical to modern English, "feyth," (pronounced as, “faith”).  This Danish word is akin to the Latin word for faith I mentioned previously (fides) and this again to the Sanskrit root bhidh, meaning literally, “to unite,” or, “to bind” (as in a binding oath or being united together in a covenant agreement).


If you want etymology that extends beyond what I have provided, please let me know.  I did not venture into the Greek and Hebrew root word origins in scripture, since your question merely asked for the origin of the English word for faith.  If you want further details on the meanings and applications of the Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible for faith, please specify in your next reply.


QUESTION #2 – Is faith strictly a Christian concept?


ANSWER #2 – Actually the origins of word meanings and applications for faith discussed thus far (i.e. - as the binding or uniting of two parties in oath or mutual agreement, aka a “good-faith” agreement”) is not limited to the Christian faith, nor is the Christian faith its root source.  In fact, these concepts predate Christianity by several millennia; in the societies and cultures of the east, a binding oath continues its use in modern times just as it was practiced in ancient days.


For example, it is quite common in Muslim countries for two men to, “cut covenant,” by entering into contractual agreement.  This involves the “faith” of each man in the integrity of the other.  Fundamentalist Muslims enter such an agreement through the shedding of an animal’s blood (usually a goat or lamb). 


Once the blood has been shed, it is “binding” or “uniting,” (i.e. – enacting the good-faith agreement) the verbal promises and/or guarantees of both parties, entering them into mutual agreement.  This is where the “faith” part gets lived out, because each party has trust in the other, relying on him to keep his end of the bargain.  Of course customs vary, depending upon the region and not all societies or cultures utilize the shedding of blood to seal the promise, but universally, faith is appropriated any time a contract is enacted.


Once this happens, the terms jointly agreed upon cannot be broken without severe repercussion, which involves societal consequences, including punitive damages, incarceration, beatings or lashings, and even total banishment from one’s tribe for life, particularly in countries like Indonesia, Morocco, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, etc, which extremist Islamics are typically brutal. 


In other words, this kind of mutual “faith” is something that is taken very seriously, unlike the trivial and often frivolous professions of faith among Christians in America.  We could learn a good deal from the devotion and commitment to follow thru with what is promised in many societies where the trust and reliance (i.e. – “faith”) in the promises made to one another are still held sacred (although they could learn a good deal from us about things like mercy and compassion).


I hope that I do not sound overtly harsh and demanding in my description of faith.  In seeking to keep my answers to your questions simple and to the point, so that I do not to add further distress to your already exhausting research, I may not seem to temper my explanations of the etymology of the word faith with sufficient compassion, mercy and grace.  Please understand I am thankful to be a forgiven sinner and do not boast in myself, but in God alone, thru His forgiveness in Jesus Christ.


On the other hand, I should point out prevailing current trends in what Christianity deems to be “faith” reflect a horribly misguided deviation from the truth of scripture.  What I mean is this: Truly scriptural faith requires a two-way agreement between God and man; to exercise “faith” involves more than uttering a sinners prayer, or verbally affirming one’s belief in God or Christ. 


As I read your email and realized how something as simple and straightforward as providing an online explanation for your inquiries became an exhausting exercise in futility, creating a sense of information overload, it made me aware of just how far the Christian church has drifted away from the simplicity of the scriptures.  Faith is not complicated nor does it require theological superiority to explain or to practice.


The ancient Hebrews likened true faith to what I explained earlier when men, “cut covenant” with one another.  The Hebrews eventually became known as the twelve tribes of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel.  Jesus the Messiah has ties to one of the twelve tribes (i.e. – Judah) thru his mother Mary.  I make note of this to help make the connection to ancient practices of cutting covenant and the progressive development of the Christian concepts of faith.


In Israel, for example, under the statutes of the divine Law given to Moses, if a man sold a piece of land to his neighbor, after a mutually acceptable price was agreed upon, including any requisites for payment and/or default of payment under the terms jointly decided, the next step was to publicly ratify or validate the agreement, making it “binding” (i.e. – done in good faith).  This is what is meant in the Latin and Hebrew word definitions for faith, because in reality, the accurate representation is focused more on the faithfulness of each in the agreement they are bound to.


In the New Testament the same level of commitment is required, but the descriptive terminology for faith is simplified and more to the point.  The NT counterpart for what I described as faith-fulness in the OT is simply to say, “Faith without works is useless, and stands alone.”  The writer of the Book of James (James was the brother of Jesus) does a good job of showing the parallels between the OT faith concepts and the NT faith applications and association with works, particularly works that are motivated by genuine love for one’s brothers and sisters in Jesus.


James 2:14-22

14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?


·          The implied rhetorical answer is “No” Andrea.


15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,

16 and one of you says to them, " Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 


·          This shows the integral and essential link between love and faith.  You see, a man can say he is keeping his faith covenant with God, which requires obedience to Jesus’ command to love one another, but unless his works testify to the veracity of his commitment, the mutual agreement is null and void until he repents, seeks mercy for his transgression, and then implements change.  After all, how can a man say he loves God whom he cannot see visibly, and yet refuse to show pragmatic love by caring for the needs of God’s children, whom he is able to see (Read 1 John 4:20-21)


18 But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works."

19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?

22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;



I hope you are beginning to see how “faith” originated Andrea.  The key phrase above is, “faith was working with his works,” and this shows that faith predates Christianity by at least 3500 years.  Abraham had entered into a faithful agreement with God, and his obedience to substitute his own son in the stead of the sacrificial lamb shows how seriously he took his faith.


A good faith union insures that each man would keep his end of the agreement.  To assure compliance to the terms by each party entering into the binding, each man would seek to obtain a minimum of two witnesses (preferably three or more, but two is considered the universal standard), and thereupon they would seal the agreement by cutting the throat of an animal, spilling its blood upon the land in a public declaration of the binding agreement.  The rituals vary depending upon tribal customs and religion, but you get the idea.  The shed blood is to both parties like a legally binding written contract would be in our western society.  The witnesses to the agreement would be likened to a notary public whose seal of approval attests to the veracity of the agreement and the parties that sign the contract.


When Jesus offered his life as a sacrifice, he cut a covenant with God (so to speak) and sealed the agreement with his own precious blood.  The men and women of that era understood the significance of this sacrificial Lamb of God much more than we westerners do.  Jesus lived out 33 ½ years of purity and reliance upon God, seeking only the Father’s will, remaining true to his part of the atoning agreement up until, and then including the spilling of his own blood. 


In faith Jesus fulfilled his part of the agreement, even though it involved tremendous suffering and anguish of soul and spirit; he “believed” that God would ultimately raise him from the dead in keeping with His end of the covenant between the two of them. 


God the Father ratified the agreement with His only begotten son when He raised the man Christ Jesus up and out from among the dead.  Thereafter, to insure the agreement had been sufficiently witnessed (to make it legally binding in the court of heaven), Jesus showed himself alive, testifying to the resurrection by visible proof for a period of forty days.  After this he ascended to the right hand of the Father (God), and began top enact his role as mediator of a new and better covenant than that of the old.


We enter into a faith agreement with God on the basis of the once-for-all blood that was freely given by Jesus, the Lamb of God.  This obligates us to a commitment of obedience, because the primary stipulation of the covenant each person makes with God thru Christ requires that he or she love as Christ loved, and gave himself.  Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”  The NT covenant is a love agreement, but it requires active and pragmatic works to be considered true faith.


QUESTION #3 - What is the relationship between faith and reason?


ANSWER #3 – In NT scripture, the word “reason” is derived from the Greek logos, from whence we get our English word logic.  There is such thing as true logic and pseudo (false) logic (aka logical fallacy).  The King James Version of the Bible translates logos as the following: account, cause, communication, concerning, doctrine, fame, have to do, intent, matter, mouth, preaching, question, reason, reckon, remove, say (-ing), shew, speaker, speech, talk, thing, none of these things move me, tidings, treatise, utterance, word, work


Strong’s Exhaustive Greek Dictionary defines logos as follows:


NT: 3056 logos (log'-os); from NT: 3004; something said (including the thought); by implication a topic (subject of discourse), also reasoning (the mental faculty) or motive; by extension, a computation   (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.)


To make this as easy for you as possible, the relationship between “reason” and “faith” is this:


Reason is the process by which a person derives a conclusion, true or false.  After reasoning comes faith, because faith is the decision to put one’s trust in whatever they have decided (i.e. – reasoned) is true.


As a Christian, I choose to believe in God on the basis of facts, which facts I conclude are based solely in truth (or at least my perception of the truth).  From a philosophical perspective, for example, the facts support the reasoning that the world was created by intellect, i.e. - a Divine Architect; therefore I rest in full assurance of this because it is logical to do so. 


On the other hand, someone else may choose to believe the world happened into existence by random selection and a nebulous ‘big bang’ theory; their reasoning is based solely in what is false, so the relationship between their faith and reason is distorted and skewed.


An excellent chapter in the NT that corroborates what I have just explained to you is below; I suggest reading the entire eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, but these are some choice verses:


·          Hebrew 11:1-3 says, “Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality; faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses.  2 For by faith, (i.e. - trust and holy fervor born of faith), the men of old had divine testimony borne to them and obtained a good report. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds during the successive ages were framed, fashioned, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose by the word of God, so that what we see was not made out of things which are visible.” Amplified Bible


I hope this helps you Andrea; I kept my answers brief and to the point to help you take hold of the concepts in general, and if you desire further discussion, please specify how I can help.


Yours in Jesus~


Craig Bluemel

The Bible Answer Stand Ministry



1 Peter 3:15

Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully.




Return to BAS Homepage   ·   Craig's Bible Studies   ·   E-mail Craig   ·   Write Us   ·   Writings & Links to BAS Friends   ·   Q & A   ·   Return to Top of This Page