Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb πειθω (peitho) and its derived noun πιστις (pistis) are possibly the most signature words of the Greek New Testament. The verb means to persuade or be persuaded, and the noun means faith; trust or certainty. From the noun in turn derives the equally important verb πιστευω (pisteuo), meaning to have faith, that is: to behave as someone who has been persuaded into certainty.
See for a discussion of the verb πειθω (peitho), to persuade, directly below. See for an exhaustive look at the noun πιστις (pistis), meaning faith or sureness, and its derived verb πιστευω (pisteuo), to believe, farther below. For more derivatives of the verb πειθω (peitho) and the noun πιστις (pistis), see all the way down this page.
The renewal of minds
Discussions on faith commonly center on the subject of faith (what to believe in) or the content of faith (what to believe about our subject) but in this article we will mostly look at the inner mechanism of faith, its origin and its chemical composition if you will: how believing is done and where it comes from.
One surprising thing we will discover is that in the Bible, the value of faith is inherent; it doesn't get it from subject and content. Having faith is obviously a huge deal but since "love believes all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7), and not merely the right things about the right subjects, any specification or specialization may be cute but not too relevant. That's probably why the Bible contains no formal creeds or statements of faith (such as the dismal Nicene Creed).
Folks who try to make others "choose" to have faith, and who get angry when the answer is "no", really only want to sign them up to their club. You can't choose to have faith just like you can't choose to fall in love.
Still, Biblical faith is a real and measurable mental capacity that, once acquired, changes someone to the core, and as fundamentally and wholesale as a caterpillar that changes into a butterfly (Romans 12:2). It can't be undone, revoked or forgotten; it can never go away. Someone who doesn't have it doesn't understand it in precisely the same way in which a brick does not understand a squirrel, or in which a squirrel does not understand Homo sapiens fidens: the human who discerns and trusts. And, believe it or not, the world today is largely populated by this magnificent creature.
Homo sapiens fidens
The verb πειθω (peitho) means to persuade, and persuading was to the Greeks such a lofty pursuit that they venerated it as the goddess Peitho. Peitho in turn was thought to bring Eros to Venus, which prompted the Greek custom of having young Greek suitors demonstrate their potential prowess as a husband by persuading the father of the bride of this. In other words: of all the human qualities they could choose from, the Greeks had taken it upon themselves to artificially breed humanity's knack for persuasion. Why?
Long before salesmen invented advertising, the act of persuasion represented everything that was good and brilliant about humanity. It meant a departure from coercion, from bulky hulks enforcing their will by bludgeoning it into the others. A genuinely persuasive man could prevent costly wars from ever starting, whilst having the same effect of peace and increased riches.
Persuasion requires explanation, which requires mental agility and a broad knowledge base. Persuasion required the development and veneration of logic thought, and this required a widely versatile language, and an accurately standardized script. But most of all, persuasion requires an intimate knowledge of, and genuine respect for, the other guy. Persuasion requires agreement on both sides, and that's the key issue: a freely and eagerly assumed agreement; a mental stance as close to falling in love as you can get without becoming teary eyed (2 Thessalonians 2:10). A free and eager collective surrender creates societies of phenomenal strength and reach. Or said differently: once, long ago, we were able to build pyramids, and yesterday we put a man on the moon. Think of that next time you can't get five people together for a picnic.
Persuasion, or the willing and eager collective surrender to an idea that suddenly seems really bright and the mere seed of even greater things, created language first and writing later. We all know the story of how Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but the Word of God could not come to earth until mankind became persuaded that writing was worthy of pursuit. In order for a writing system to begin to exist — long before poems, plays and novels can begin to be perceived — tribes over great areas must first agree to unite for a greater but unknown good.
The Internet existed long before computers were invented, and is based on persuasion rather than technology. Mankind's greatest asset has always been our ability to utilize our brains for the art of persuasion. It's what brought us together. It's what brought God among us, and it will be what leads us to the divine.
The verb πειθω (peitho), to persuade, denotes a collective synchronizing of wisdom and the ironing out of wrinkles in a society's continuum of understanding. It does not describe someone preaching and the rest listening, but people conversing in a verbal economy and achieving a unification of minds (Acts 17:4) into a mutual identity to which everybody can relate (Romans 15:5, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Philippians 2:2, 1 Peter 3:8), and which ultimately will even unite with the Creator. The subject of this endeavor covers everything, from science and technology to law and social norms to skills and art.
Our verb may describe the act of providing verbal and logical backup to an idea in order for others to accept it as true, valuable, useful, entertaining or promising (Acts 18:4, 2 Corinthians 5:11). And although sometimes our verb simply describes placating people or making friends (Matthew 28:14, Acts 12:20, Galatians 1:10), its primary purpose is to have people collectively act upon a shared idea (Matthew 27:20, Acts 14:19), or as John says, to not love talking but doing, because in doing truth is recognized and hearts are persuaded (1 John 3:18-19).
Our verb does not so much describe the achieving of aligning people's minds but rather the getting there, and this may sometimes take days (without success; Acts 21:4) or months on end (Acts 19:8). This process mostly comes with a lot of talking (Acts 28:24) but any evidence may suffice, such as the rising from the dead of someone (Luke 16:31) or certain promises "from afar" (Hebrews 11:13). But ultimately, certainty is what ensues, and our verb may also be used to reflect a casual sense of certainty such as is expressed in statements such as "I'm sure that..." (Romans 8:38, Hebrews 6:9, 2 Timothy 1:5) or "they are convinced that..." (Luke 20:6), or "we are sure that..." (Hebrews 13:18).
Sometimes our verb is used in a stronger sense than just falling in with an idea or with people, and almost takes on the force of to obey, albeit without ever losing its core sense of willful synchronicity (Galatians 3:1, 5:7, Hebrews 13:17; James 3:3 speaks of horses "obeying" the bits in their mouths, but still discusses a willful synchronicity. People have placed bits in the mouths of zebras, which resulted in zero synchronicity). In that same vein, our verb also describes a placing of trust in, or rather to utilize as instrument to achieve certainty or security: wealth (Mark 10:24), armor (Luke 11:22), one self (Luke 18:9, Romans 2:19), other people (2 Corinthians 2:3), or the Lord (Matthew 27:43, 2 Corinthians 1:9, Philippians 1:14).
Unfortunately, our verb is not limited to the sharing of only good ideas, and sometimes people get suckered into really bad ones (Acts 5:36-40, 23:21, 27:11, Romans 2:8, Galatians 5:8). The fate of those who trust in poor ideas is disappointment and dispersal at best, but those who trust in things that stay true after fads pass and scrutiny find no fault will prevail in good standing and lasting prosperity. Trust in general is generally beneficial, but whether the subject of one's trust itself is beneficial or even true can only be told in time and in retrospect.
Still, the substance of faith is truth — which in turn is the only representation of reality that all people can agree on and identify with, in whatever way but without feeling the slightest objection — and its ultimate reach is the character and nature of the Creator. The truth that will be found standing at the end of all learning is now both crying out loud from the mechanisms of nature, and is shimmering backward in time for us to slowly recognize, whispering quietly from the basements of people's minds. It's to our great benefit when we carefully but critically listen to what other people say in earnestness, because the rains of truth begin as fleeting mists of countless droplets, but when these droplets congregate into clouds, these clouds will carry something beyond all imagination (Acts 1:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Christ, apart from all else, is not the patron saint of Christianity and certainly not confined to any religious doctrine or model (Acts 7:48-50, Revelation 21:22). Instead, in Christ is summed up all the natural law upon which the whole of creation operates (Colossians 2:3). Christ is he who has been revealing himself through the natural world since time immemorial (Psalm 19, Romans 1:20), who, after eons of persuasion, could finally join humanity in human form (John 1:14), and who will be found standing at the end of all persuasion, for all to embrace with great enthusiasm and voluntary surrender (Isaiah 40:5, Luke 3:6, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10-11). That's the Christ of whom Paul expressed his hope, trust and convictions (Acts 28:23, Romans 14:14, Galatians 5:10, Philippians 2:24, 2 Thessalonians 3:4).
Our verb is used a mere 54 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, but from it derive the following important words:
The raging seas versus dry land
Our English word "faith" (from the Latin word fides, meaning trust or confidence) is in modern times almost wholly reserved for religious sentiments, and if it is used in a secular way it denotes the accepting of something for which no evidence exists. Hence we take something on faith, or have faith in something untried.
In New Testament times there was no such thing as "faith" as we know it, and with the word πιστις (pistis) people referred to the mental substance that results from intelligent and reasonable inquiry or instruction; the mind's response to valuable information. It described sureness in every way, from sureness about salvation to sureness about how to make a club sandwich. Someone's pistis did not denote one's religious or political leanings but comprised everything a person was certain of, on whatever level and whatever field, without distinction between scientific, artistic and religious certainties or even little practical certainties to help with daily chores.
Our noun πιστις (pistis) denotes the foundation of all a person's willful activities, and the whole spectrum of a person's acts and conduct; not a dusty library of dogmas but the open-source social software upon which a person's daily life runs. It occurs 244 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
The derived verb πιστευω (pisteuo), in turn, has to do with examining, understanding, learning and teaching (2 Corinthians 4:13) and nothing with accepting something "on faith" or subscribing to some creed. This verb is used 248 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
Our noun πιστις (pistis) derives from the verb πειθω (peitho; see further above), which denotes people conversing together in order to achieve common ground. Our noun πιστις (pistis) denotes the collective "dry land" of peoples' minds; that shared solid ground on which the individual mind can stand without sinking away, and upon which it can walk without getting swept along.
This "metaphor" is employed all over the Bible and is so dominant that stories involving the theme of water versus dry land can be readily expected to also provide commentary on psychology and sociology (Genesis 1:9, 8:13, Exodus 14:16, Matthew 14:29-31). The Hebrews of old were even so well aware of the hydrological cycle and so vastly insightful in matters of human cognition that they could use the principles of each to explain the other (see our article on ארץ, 'eres, meaning earth or dry land).
Hands, feet, wings and hoofs, and the DSM
The Hebrew reality model that came to us from deep antiquity viewed the human mental-sphere as a self-similar subset of the greater biosphere (meaning that the whole of human culture works precisely the same as the biosphere it's part of). This self-similarity allows the working of the human mind to explain the working of the biosphere and vice versa, not as figurative metaphors but as two intrinsic sides to the same complicated coin (and read our introductions to Chaos Theory and Scripture Theory for more on these topics).
This self-similarity explains the creation week, the image of Noah and his ark full of animals, Peter's vision of the great animal-filled sheet (Acts 10:11-16), and the Bible's bold declarations of animal-human symmetry (Psalm 73:22, Ecclesiastes 3:18, 2 Peter 2:12, Jude 1:10). It also explains the Mosaic dietary and sacrificial laws, which discus human cognitive psychology rather than fine dining or blind obedience training. And this is turn clarifies the Lord's irritation with folks who had turned away from these great insights of antiquity, in order to develop religions that demanded that simply knocking over animals would somehow please the Creator (1 Samuel 15:22, Isaiah 1:11, Psalm 51:16-17, Hosea 6:6).
Israel's dietary laws were designed to have people understand how their minds worked, and this in turn so that they would come to know how to use them. For the same reason, Jesus instituted the communion rite, not as some ritual to piously comply with but a social exercise that was designed to literally bring into people's mind the nature of Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:27-28, 1 Corinthians 11:24).
Feet are mentioned disproportionally often in the Bible, but that's probably because feet are that part of a person with which he or she stands on common ground. Feet are to the body what social norms and language skills are to the mind: they paradoxically constitute the compliance required to be unique — to say something brilliantly original, you must very carefully use your words in precisely the right and accepted way (hence enigmatic scenes such as Matthew 10:14, John 13:5 and of course John 12:3).
The hand, in turn, is often used to mean power or personal skill; or that part of an individual with which he or she may grab hold of someone else, and combine with the other without losing one's own identity. If one mind is an atom, folks "holding hands" can form the enormous mental molecules of multi-lateral companies. Only very few animals sport multi-lateral colonies, but ants are a well-known example (Proverbs 6:6) and so are bees (see the name Deborah). Recent studies have shown that super-organisms such as ant- and bee-colonies form collective decisions in the same way as a single mammalian brain does (see discussions on smart-swarm or swarm-intelligence and the wisdom-of-crowds phenomenon). That strongly indicates that humanity is equipped to operate collectively as an immense super-brain, and that in turn suggests that collective humanity will in time develop a singular awareness and identity.
Mammals other than primates obviously walk on four feet, which to a Hebrew would mean that they are thoroughly grounded in social consensus but do very little with social diversification and complex cooperation. Birds are also monolateral but have wings for arms and can actually take off from the earth and take to the sky, like visionaries. Aquatic mammals such as dolphins and whales, with neither feet to stand on nor hands to grab with, would have reminded a Hebrew observer of peoples that live in unknown worlds, disconnected from the dry land of global human culture.
Once, long ago, the human world consisted only of disconnected aquatics and visionary birds that bred on land (Genesis 1:22), which helps to explain why the outer layer of the original tabernacle consisted of the hides of one of those aquatic mammals (namely the thahash; Exodus 25:5, possibly explained by Genesis 12:1). Being disconnected from global human culture is a condition that today is very rare and will no longer exist in the world to come (Revelation 21:1).
The warped inflections of our modern social structures force eagles to run with wildebeests and dolphins to dine with dogs. Procreation works in the mental sphere different than in the biological sphere (hence Timothy was literally Paul's true son, albeit not in the flesh but in the mind; 1 Timothy 1:2) and much psychological illness could be expected to arise from people being untrue to their mental constitution. Solutions should be sought in that same fidelity, instead of in pharmaceuticals and endless therapies — and in the study of the faunal world instead of the latest trends in psychology (Ephesians 4:28). The story of the "good shepherd" (ποιμην, poimen, shepherd) is not a metaphor, and the world today is in dire need of some good park rangers who can tell a wolf from a weasel (Genesis 2:20).
The Bible famously predicts a human social realm in which wolves, lambs, leopards, goats, calves, lion cubs, cows, bears, young human children and even snakes and vipers will dwell together in peace in a world without sea (Isaiah 11:6-8) but aspiring clairvoyants need to keep in mind that the Hebrews saw animals different than we do. The lion, for instance, was to the Hebrews not the fabled "king of the beasts" as it is in our world, but rather one who "bundles" or "gathers" food (see our article on the noun ארי, 'ari, meaning lion). And animals such as sheep and dogs aren't natural creatures; they are as human as the Brandenburg Concertos, and are as part of humanity as the Eiffel Tower. Said even simpler: without cattle and such, humanity couldn't have created its dense civilization. Modern humanity wouldn't exist if our ancestors hadn't domesticated cattle's ancestors and adopted them into their most direct realm of operation. Humanity today is truly a hybrid of homo sapiens and a handful of other living beings and this arrangement is quite literally the cultural equivalent of endosymbiotic eukaryosynthesis.
Our verb πιστευω (pisteuo) obviously far exceeds the compass of the English verb "to believe". It describes not only someone's assimilating of trustworthy information (or other resources; Luke 16:11, John 2:24), it also implies that this person is becoming more alike the information and thus more trustworthy (to one's own audience) and ultimately more like the source (Philippians 3:21).
Our verb usually strongly implies a deliberate transaction from a source to a receiver, and often (when the verb comes without subject), it's deliberately unclear whether we're looking at someone receiving or someone transmitting information. The primary action of our verb is therefore the making smaller of the gap between source and receiver (or the increasing of mental entropy, if you will), and its ultimate result is a seamless blending of the two. When Jesus asked the Pharisees why they hadn't "believed" John, he essentially asked why they hadn't joined him (Matthew 21:25).
Note that the Hebrew verb ידע (yada') both means to know and to join — hence Adam "knew" his wife and Cain was born; Genesis 4:1 — and that the name of Israel's priestly caste, the Levites, derives from the verb לוה (lawa) that both means to join and to borrow/lend. The name of Israel's first and God-given capital, Hebron, also comes from a verb that means to join, namely חבר (habar), which also describes a joint venture or collective company.
In Latin these actions would be expressed by the verb concresco, which literally means "to grow together" or "to emerge compacted", and which was used to describe the congealing of liquid but also the growing into a certain form or onto a level of strength (spectacularly, the past participle of this Latin verb, concretus, denotes dew or condense). This Latin verb is the root of our English nouns "concrescence" and "concrement", and the derived noun concretum is the origin of our word "concrete"; the stuff we build entire cities on.
Our English verb "to believe", on the other hand, comes from the same root as the word "love" and is basically the same as "to belove" or "hold dear/feel sentimental about". The English noun "belief" is an emotional word, which implies a brittle link between lover and loved over a vast, gasping chasm of empty longing. The Greek verb πιστευω (pisteuo) has very little to do with "believing", but speaks of wholesale absorption, phase transition and a becoming as solid as concrete for everybody to stand on.
When Abraham "believed" the Lord, it was famously reckoned to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6), but where in English this reckoning takes on the guise of some unrelated and spontaneous bonus, in Greek it's implied by our verb πιστευω (pisteuo) — when you walk to town, you'll end up there, and when you gain solid ground in the knowledge of the Creator, you'll take on his character. Ergo, "believing" in Christ has nothing to do with joining a religion or with formal statements or faith (as often noted: even the devil "believes" all the right things; James 2:19). Instead it has to do with assuming the nature and character of Christ in deeds and words (Matthew 5:48, 7:23, Luke 7:22, John 15:10). Or said otherwise: from the heart [one] is "solidified" unto correctness, and from the mouth [one] assents unto salvation (Romans 10:10).
The passive voice of our verb πιστευω (pisteuo) does therefore not so much describe a "being believed/entrusted" but rather a "having been made trustworthy". Paul doesn't speak of a gospel that was "entrusted" to him (because the gospel is natural, obvious and openly available to everybody: Acts 17:31), but one that "solidified/certified" him (1 Timothy 1:11, Titus 1:3, 1 Corinthians 9:17) and his many colleagues (Galatians 2:7, 1 Thessalonians 2:4). Likewise the Jews of antiquity had not so much been "entrusted with" but rather "made trustworthy" by the oracles of God (Romans 3:2, see Zechariah 8:23). And note Paul's amazing use of the passive voice: the ancient Jews were not done something to "by" God's oracles, but rather "embodied" God's oracles. The Jews were being formed into the solid state of God's oracles, just like the six-pointed molecular structure of ice crystals becomes embodied in every much larger snow flake. Similarly, Paul writes about the "mystery of godliness", which was manifest in the flesh and "solidified" into the world (1 Timothy 3:16).
Faith is not an element of a person's mind but its most fundamental structure. It's not about what a person believes in, but how a person functions as a mindful being. Faith is the mind's operating system upon which everything else stands, in which everything else grows, that makes everything else tick, and gives everything else its place relative to all other things. Faith is that which makes all things one.
Sedimentation and erosion
In Biblical times, lies, pretense and blunt deceit were still recognized as socially caustic and even punishable by death (Deuteronomy 18:20, Ezekiel 14:8-9), and one's pistis was that total body of knowledge one could count on to provide protection from the elements, prosperity and respect from and engagement by others. One's pistis represented in every way one's value to society and chances of survival, and as such was the opposite of the effects of sin (Romans 14:23), which would be disintegration, demise and death (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1). Since most people like living, most people naturally abhor deceit, and under normal circumstances, the common pistis-base of society will grow via a kind of mental sedimentation. A society in which sin overwhelms this cognitional sedimentation process, will lose its ground through erosion, and if the process isn't checked will disappear into the waves (Genesis 18:32). This is what happened to pretty much every people known from antiquity, from the Maya to the Scythians (Revelation 18:2), but obviously not to the Jews (Jeremiah 30:11).
The classics used our noun πιστις (pistis) all the time but only rarely in a religious sense. To the ancients, our word denoted trust and confidence (in an absolute sense), trustworthiness and honesty (in a subjective sense), and that which gives confidence or a guarantee (in a causative sense). In the commercial arena our word came to denote credit (the amount one was trusted for). In the rhetoric arena our word became synonymous with argued or demonstrated proof. Josephus used this word all the time and in only about ten percent of the cases in a religious context. The Pythagoreans used this word as venerative name for the number ten. The Greeks personified Pistis along with Hope, Prudence and the Charities, and the Romans made her a full-fledged deity named Fides.
The main difference between the application of this word in the classics and in the New Testament is not due to a change in perception of this word's meaning, but rather in that of the deity. The Greeks and Romans didn't "believe" in their deities, and certainly not in the way followers of Jesus do. Greek and Roman deities were far removed from the human world, but humans served them and tried to appease them and tried to direct their divine whims into doing deeds that were beneficial to mankind. Followers of Jesus see their deity as intimately involved with humanity, but directing humanity with immutable laws (Psalm 119:160, Luke 16:17, Hebrews 13:8). A Greek or Roman tried to impose his will on the deity. A follower of Jesus tries to learn about the ways of God and align himself with his will (Psalm 25:4-5, Matthew 6:10, 26:42; see our article on the familiar word θεος, theos, for a closer look at the nature of the deity).
The authors of the New Testament instigated a revolution in thought by their use of our word pistis in relation to God. It implied that the ways of the Living Creator translate to unchanging natural laws (Luke 16:17, Romans 1:20), which in turn translate into observable events, which may translate to knowledge of the underlying laws of nature, which in turn can lead to a knowledge of God and thus a hyper-healthy society, standing of firm and erosion proof concrete. Since the ultimate subject of pistis must always be the unchangeable Creator, the content of pistis sums up our awareness of the Creator. But until we stand face to Face with the Creator (Jude 1:24), faith in the Creator must remain immature and must therefore transform. And that seemingly simply principle comes with a bit of a twist:
Mustard seed and hot air
When Jesus spoke of faith as a mustard seed that might grow into a tree (Matthew 17:20, Luke 17:6), he did not refer to the seed's admitted small size, as is commonly believed, and neither did he speak of the disciples admitted small faith. Instead he spoke of a seed, and a seed is an item that although very small, still has the whole future tree already inside of itself. What is added to the seed are common nutrients and water but not essence, and whatever the tree might grow into is wholly determined by what the seed has always contained.
Tree and seed are essentially the same; just two forms of the same entity. Faith must be like a seed or a shoot or a tree in the sense that it must be whole and wholly complete and able to live autonomously. Because an incomplete faith is as useful as half a seed. An incomplete faith (which in itself can be PhD-sized colossal) can be recognized the same way a half-seed can be recognized: by its lifelessness. Half-faiths are wooden buildings, made from chopped-down trees, and which form only through accumulation and according to some artificial design and don't grow from within. It's precisely one of those dead-wooden things that the Romans used to execute Christ, and this thing remains until today the symbol of stagnant faith.
Over the centuries folks have hunted for the essence of godly faith — the DNA of the mustard plant, if you will — and have come up with the most creative nonsense. Look on any church website, and you'll find statements of faith that go all over the place and sound wonderfully pious but are little more than hot air. When Jesus encountered a similar inquest, he didn't summarize the Word in some stern-sounding manifesto, but summed up the entire Law and the Prophets by quoting from the Law: (1) love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul, and (2) your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31). With this he reflected the same two categories that exist in the Ten Commandments, namely (1) concern about the Creator, reflected by the first "five", and (2) concern about one's fellow man, reflected by the second five.
The accidental cross
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is truly the central most event in Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:16, Philippians 3:10), but many people who associate their own eternal fate to this event remain disturbingly ignorant about its most central facts (Isaiah 5:13, Hosea 4:6). Here at Abarim Publications we surmise that the familiar symbol of the Latin cross originally reflected the bipolarity of divinity that is demonstrated all over Scripture: namely the synthesis of a horizontal relation between creatures (famously isolated by secular humanism), and a vertical relation between creation and the Creator (famously isolated by monasticism). This magnificent symbol of universal holism was very early in the game rightly associated with Jesus Christ, but only after a few centuries confused with the σταυρος (stauros) upon which Jesus had been executed, and which may have looked similar (or rather more like a T than a cross).
But, much more significantly, although Jesus died on the cross, it was neither the Romans nor the crucifixion that ultimately killed him. When spread out on a cross, one's chest cavity expands and one cannot exhale, unless one tries to stretch the legs and hoist one's bruised body up a bit. That's why breaking a crucified person's legs speeds up his death; he can no longer breathe (John 19:31).
On the cross one normally dies of exhaustion and asphyxiation, and certainly not crying out in a loud voice (Mark 15:37). Dying this way normally took a few days and Jesus died much too early, hence the surprise of Pilate (Mark 15:44) and the Roman soldiers (John 19:33). The solution to this conundrum is offered in John 10:18 (and Matthew 27:50, Luke 23:46, and John 19:30).
The Latin word crux covered a wide range of wooden instruments of torture and execution, which took on all kinds of forms and sizes and which signature purpose was to provide a public display of what happened to serviles when they didn't behave. The crux was not primarily an instrument of execution, but rather an instrument to impose terror upon the spectating masses. It's the symbol of fear and coercion and indoctrination and ultimately of wholesale slavery, and it says: "Don't do what these guys did or we will do to you what we did to them".
The word crux itself has to do with bending (hence the words "circle" and "circus") and in turn possibly described a feature of a tree (see our article on the names Lud and Luz). Our word crux is probably of Phoenician origin and note that the Hebrew word for face (or public display) comes from a verb that means to turn (namely פנה, pana). Because of unfortunate corruption of language, the English word "cross" has assumed the meaning of laying athwart but its real meaning is that of public awareness and obviousness, and has since deep history carried the meaning of summary and completeness (John 19:30). As noted above, the Pythagoreans used our noun pistis, meaning trust or confidence, as nickname for the number 10, and the Romans used an early version of the sign of the cross, X, for that same purpose. Obviously, in the Bible too, a complete set was said to consist of ten members, despite its actual size: ten commandments (Exodus 34:28), ten plagues (Exodus 7:14 and on), ten camels (Genesis 24:10), etcetera.
The central crux of it all
Jesus compressed the signature bipolarity of Scripture even further by reciting the precise opposite of what a crux was for, namely: "Do to others what you want them to do to you" and submitted that this too summed up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12). And although this statement is generously known as The Golden Rule, it's often not recognized what a deeply profound statement this is. It contains the entire Law (what to do), it contains all promise (what be done to you), and it contains the baffling concept of otherness. If this statement truly reflects all Law and Prophets, it is the most condensed representation of the very Word of God. And that means that the most essential quality of the divine is to engage the other. And when there is none, to let there be one.
What may seem to some as little more than a humanistic bumper sticker is really the most fundamental principle of all of existence, and it pops up as bottom line of all major processes that make our universe tick. It explains the primary principle of economy, namely production of something that wasn't there before (and see our article on the word τεκτων, tekton, meaning producer; the job that Jesus had), and subsequently the principle of supply and demand. It explains creation as a whole, but it also explains how matter and antimatter relate, or how DNA replicates, or how the biosphere functions, or how the human mind works. When we train our kids in this principle (how does the other guy want to be treated, and how does he see me?) they learn to see the world through other people's eyes, which in turn gives them a vast advantage over people who were raised on the principles of competition. It explains that invention is as godly a pursuit as marriage, and ultimately, it explains that the whole idea behind the evolving universe is to become a living replica of the Creator, and do onto him what he does onto it: complete surrender and unification, like husband and wife.
This most fundamental principle also explains what the mustard seed is, what faith is in its most essential form: to give what you want to get. It's why Jesus could say to the centurion, "as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee" (Matthew 8:13). It's also why the present job of us humans is to not convert but to converse: to listen as we want to be listened to, to weigh and sieve, and by so doing learn ever more about the Creator.
Moving mountains and the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus said that faith like a mustard seed could move mountains, and although this is in our time often explained as a hyperbolical review of one's private resolve, it really isn't. Moving mountains was done all the time in the old world, and it required team work, vast skills and a very good reason to do it. In deep antiquity, people all over the world had built ceremonial earthworks from modest mounds to enormous pyramids, and in the second century BC, Antipater of Sidon had dubbed the pyramids of Giza "man-made mountains". Even the 750 meter high hill that hosted Herod's famous palace (called Herodion) was "raised to a height by the hand of man" (in the words of Josephus; for more on Josephus, see our article on Dalmanutha).
Dumping mountains in the sea was also done regularly. Herod's immense complex of the harbor of Caesarea Maritima was largely built with special hydraulic concrete, made from volcanic ash, for which whole Italian mountains were dug up and hoisted over to Judea. Unfortunately, the installation wasn't properly founded and began to sink almost immediately (hence the image of the foolish man who built his house on the sand: Matthew 7:24-27).
But the moving of mountains is only mentioned by Matthew and Mark (Mark 11:23). The Lucan account speaks of "this" sycamore tree, which almost certainly does not refer to some hapless shrub that happened to stand there, but rather to all of human industrial and cultural effort (see Genesis 3:7 and of course Luke 19:4; also note the "all men" clause of Acts 17:31). The mountain mentioned by Matthew is likewise probably not a geographical feature but rather a demographical one. When the Bible speaks of the "mountain of such and such" it taps into the dominant dry-land theme and refers to a people or nation, complete with its culture and industries (hence Isaiah 40:3-5).
Significantly, Jesus compared not only faith to a mustard seed, he also likened the very Kingdom of Heaven to it (Matthew 13:31, Mark 4:31, Luke 13:19; see Luke 17:21). That demonstrates that we don't believe in the Kingdom of Heaven, our faith is the Kingdom of Heaven. Our faith that is God's kingdom is a kind of mental economy, and as is true with any economy, the secret is to give what you want to get. It also doesn't matter a whole lot what it is exactly that you trade as long as you're honest and fair and partake in the grand circus of it all.
The purpose of economy is fellowship, not making money, and certainly not getting richer than the next guy (which literally means at the cost of the next guy). Over the last two decades or so, it has become increasingly clear and widely attested that the only thing that makes people truly happy is other people. Or said otherwise: at long last, humanity is waking up to the fact that a neighborhood barbeque increases one's standard of living (health, happiness, security) much more than a new wide-screen TV. Viewing the least original antic from a fellow human being is grander than whatever the greatest mind can create within itself, even with the greatest software and smart goggles.
A house of worship
What is also true with any economy is that you want to invest your precious commodities wisely and not into stillborn projects or projects that don't need or want your investment (see Matthew 13:45-46 relative to Matthew 7:6). Also: many people are somewhat challenged in the social arena (most of us here at Abarim Publications surely are) but an excellent rule of thumb is to dance to the flute and weep with the dirge — just go with the flow; eccentricity is overrated (Matthew 11:17). Know that if you behave like a banana, you'll be treated like a banana, and if people treat you like a banana, the chances are excellent that you are behaving like one (Matthew 7:7, 10:41). Smiling makes you happy as much as the other way around (Philippians 4:8).
The Spanish Inquisition is over, and so is the era of acquisition through conquest. Don't get upset when someone wants to tell you about energy lines and healing crystals, but listen generously; you would be amazed at how much valuable truth is out there, hiding in legends, myths and fantasies (John 21:25). Also listen carefully, and ask yourself not only whether something is true, but also who would benefit financially from you believing what you just heard. Remember, information is a product and your belief usually means money to someone in one way or other (to give a hint: the movie God Is Not Dead made a 3000% profit, not counting product placements) The signature battle between the "faiths" that's got us all on our toes is mostly one of competing markets. But in time, bogus beliefs automatically go the same way as companies that make bogus products, but while these products exist and are getting bought, they can do a lot of damage. Still, the Lord himself will judge the shelf life of each person's product assortment (Acts 5:39, 1 Corinthians 3:14-15, Exodus 14:14).
Listen as respectfully as you want to be listened to, and assume the flexibility Paul assumed (Acts 17:23, 1 Corinthians 9:19-22): be ready to speak about Allah with your Muslim neighbors, about the Grand Unified Theory with your scientific neighbors, and about a pre-Abrahamic plethora with your Hindu neighbors. You'll discover that there are tons of people out there who believe in the Living God but don't know it, and tons of people who think they believe in God but don't (Matthew 25:31-46). You'll see that you can know the entire Bible by heart and still be as godless as a bag of nails, and beat to it by a toddler who gives what it wants to get.
Religions are marvelous things that deserve to be preserved. For thousands of years they have expressed the most intimate concerns of humanity, helped us celebrate the grand mysteries of life and love, and guided us on the rocky road toward maturity. But they are art forms, like ballet and opera. All religion is theatre, which allows us to handle the inexpressible in a symbolic way. And just like a well-executed rendering of Romeo and Juliet will bring tears to the eyes of anyone who actually knows love, so may religion remind of the deity anyone who actually knows the deity. But actually finding and connecting to the deity requires looking at creation. Only the Creator and knowledge of the Creator will save us — the ancients knew this and told us so.
The Bible is not for drafting creeds but for evenings curled up with buddies, reading and pondering and comparing. Remember that script is information technology (an artificial medium that stores information) and once as magic and new and useful as hard drives are now. In fact, the ancient stories we are so familiar with, are merely the shiny top layers of vast stores of information that were put there by means of a kind of narrative data compression (Matthew 13:35). As Hebrew sages sighed: the Torah contains the entire universe, and it does so quite obviously to all whose minds run on certified operating systems. Those who don't, see as much in the Bible as the naked eye can see in a DVD, but those who do soon realize that salvation does not follow membership of some organization, or rooting for the right team (or some silly codicil you were talked into signing thirty years ago in high school), but honest and cheerful trade in the knowledge of God's creation (Ephesians 2:8, 1 Peter 1:5).
Hovering the Waters and finding the Promised Land
Abraham is considered the father of all who have pistis, with Jesus, and later his people, as Abraham's promised seed (Galatians 3:7-16), but less well known is that the Bible also considers him the father of international trade (read our article on the name Abraham for more on this). What also remains sorely undermentioned is that Christ is an eternal priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:6), who was a mysterious king without known descent, and who had his tradition up and running long before Abraham ever set foot in Canaan (Genesis 14:18).
Ultimately, the wonderful world of wisdom works the same way as any other economy: trade creates surplus, surplus allows for specialization, specialization allows for wider product ranges, and more products mean more trade. The Bible identifies the engine behind all this, namely a force just like gravity, which exerts a very mild and non-coercive force toward a common center. But the signature difference between this force and gravity is that this force is alive, intelligent and as personal as a human friend. The Bible calls this force the Holy Spirit, who, since the beginning had roamed creation in search of a foothold (Genesis 1:2 hence Matthew 14:26). As told, he found it in Jesus, and continued to traverse the earth but now in the bodily form of his people (in case you were wondering: Luke 3:22 adapts from Genesis 8:9, which adapts from Genesis 1:2; Acts 2:4 adapts from Genesis 2:7).
Information is funny stuff, because on the complexity level, information is material. It resolves uncertainty (and reduces entropy in the material sense) and is therefore closely related to pistis (which increases entropy in the mental sense more than is lost by the formation of information in the material sense). But, scientifically speaking, it's an admitted enigma where all the universe's information comes from — not just the famous genetic information that runs the biosphere but also the information that makes the difference between atomic nuclei, and the information that makes the difference between us now and us 200,000 years ago, and of course the whole universe that contains these sets of information. And it's also a bit of a mystery why the universe functions as an enormous hard drive, capable of storing enormous amounts of data. Why is there information? Why is there a universe that stores information by the yottabyte?
The view of the Bible writers was that the universe didn't simply start out as a formless blob of energy (Genesis 1:1) but also came with an operating system that would format and fill the whole thing with apps, which in turn would run on that same operating system. That operating system was called the Word of God (John 1:1), and that's what became flesh in Jesus (John 1:14).
Faith is a mustard seed (or tree) only when it is whole: when it covers the whole of creation, whether in the form of a simple existential singularity or in the vast elaborations of modern science. If it isn't wholly complete (no matter how large it is), it simply won't work. But if it is, it makes entire expanding universes out of single human minds (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The real reason why we rest
Information doesn't write itself, and can't be assembled by means of just a lot of effort (Luke 17:20). Until Jesus and later his people were available, the Holy Spirit's preferred mode of uploading appears to have been via dreams. Much has been said about dreams and their value and meanings, but it appears that during our dream state, our will is turned off and our brain can line up with whatever is out there. The data that comes from God, therefore, isn't uploaded but configured into our faith.
God cut his covenant of righteousness with Abraham when the latter was fast asleep (see Genesis 15:12 relative to Genesis 5:6, and note that Abraham never wakes up). Understanding dreams gave Joseph his edge in Egypt (Genesis 41, also see Daniel 2), and ultimately saved Israel. This is possibly why the legal father of Jesus was called Joseph too, and Matthew reports no fewer than five pivotal, revelatory dream episodes between the discovery of Mary's pregnancy (Matthew 1:20) and the Holy Family's return from Egypt (Matthew 2:22; for more on this, check out our article on the Hebrew verb חלם, halam II, meaning to dream, or our article on the noun שנה, shena meaning sleep, which is spelled identical to the verb שנה, shana I, meaning to change).
Another way for the Holy Spirit to talk with people is via those most wonderful of Jewish's gifts to the world: the day off (Exodus 20:8-11) and the twice-yearly week-long holiday (Exodus 23:14, Leviticus 23:42). We moderns couldn't imagine our world without them, but the annual vacation and the weekly day off are as great an invention as the wheel was, and wholly unnatural (humans are the only animal that have days off, and it's one of the reasons why industrious emperors and führers don't like Jews). Much has been said about the weekly Sabbath but the rule is that there are no rules: just select one day upon which you break your routine and goof off; put your feet up and waste time, or, if you have a boring job, go out mountain biking. The important thing is that you tune in to station Come-What-May one whole day per week from waking up in the morning to going back to bed at night. Forbid yourself to work, and allow no exceptions, not even for five minutes or a quick email — this conveniently eliminates feelings of guilt (if you are as much a workaholic as we are here at Abarim Publications).
Forcing yourself to take one day per week radically off opens a wide door to the things that make life worth living. You'll suddenly find yourself able to enjoy small talk and the noise that comes out of creatures like children and dogs. And when you least expect it, your brain will take you on tours to the dustiest corners of your memory and creative mind, and you'll discover a form of freedom and inspiration that can't possibly be imagined. On Sabbath, the world smells different, and on the day after Sabbath, you feel like you just woke up out of a strange and different kind of sleep. You'll discover what people have known for millennia: you'll get much more work done in six days than in seven. No wonder that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8) and the command to keep the Sabbath is right up there with "don't murder" and "don't steal" (Exodus 20:1-17; also see Matthew 12:31, 1 Thessalonians 5:19, and of course Hebrews 4:9).
There's treasure everywhere
Paul famously wrote that "pistis is the assurance of things hoped for, the substance of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1), and although many a wonderful book has been written about the deeper meanings of this statement, it also neatly reflects the scientific method; the nowadays widely accepted preferred way of achieving agreement about knowledge of the world.
Adherers to this method insist that we first calmly observe the world (instead of fantasizing about it, as Plato and company liked to do), and then try to come up with an explanation for the observable things' being there. This invariably leads to some kind of unobservable but very real system of some sort that underlies the observable order of the observable world; the "substance of things not seen", in other words. Then we should use our system to predict what's going to happen next; we draft a hypothesis, set up an experiment and if the observable outcome equals what our system predicted, we achieve "assurance of things hoped for", and know that our understanding is agreeable. Hence someone informed walks by pistis and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Plato may have been brilliant, but he personifies a shift in the method of thought — away from Aristotelian empiricism and toward metaphysical speculation — that is closely comparable to the debasement of financial currency in the 20th century. Theory is the currency of thought, and it represents the money of wisdom. A theory tells how something works or how something is done, which in turn raises the quality of life and increases freedom and thus represents wealth as much as money does. And this may be the reason why the Bible compares wisdom so often with precious metals (which in turn form the base of all complex economy). A theory (that is a skill or a solution) can be exchanged for wealth and is thus currency is all the literal senses of the word.
All the birds which fly in mid-heaven
As noted above, the Hebrew name Lud has quite a bit in common with the Latin word crux, from whence stems our word "cross". Lud in turn is the base for the name Lydia, the birthplace of the monetary coin and home of the seven churches of Revelation, and all this is probably no coincidence. The gospel obviously has quite a bit to say about economy, and although the invention of the coin did wonders for the development of economy, it also caused great harm and allowed for a wide spectrum of tyranny, from mass propaganda to economic warfare (Matthew 22:19-21).
Over the course of the twentieth century, the currencies of the world were disconnected from the value they originally represented (the gold standard). A coin used to be an absolute nugget of wealth, and a bank note would represent this, but since 1971 currency's "burden of proof" was wholly lifted and became so-called fiat money: a coin or paper slip with no intrinsic value and no ties to an actual, fixed nugget. The word fiat means "let there be" and expresses the gravity of a government's decree. It's also used famously in the Latin version of Genesis 1:3, and hence has a creative, ex nihilo, ring to it. And sure enough, since our modern currency is no longer proportionally tied to wealth on a unit-per-unit scale, governments can print currency without limit, and so smear out the existing wealth over more and more units of currency (notes and coins).
Fiat money may seem quite unfair and a really bad idea, but it allows prices of commodities to rise because more coins are used to represent the same wealth. This is called inflation, and inflation allows our economy to churn and digest large stores of otherwise stagnant wealth and reinsert it into circulation. Inflation challenges the monetary status quo, and demonstrates that an economy is alive.
Fiat money also allows the interest of the populace to shift. If currency is tied to only one commodity (gold) the wealth of the total economy depends on how much the base commodity is appreciated. Fiat money allows for one commodity (say gold) to depreciate relative to some other commodity (say IT knowledge), without the value of the total economy to plummet — nobody cares what's in the box as long as you get a box worth of pay for a box worth of work. An economy based on a limited supply of gold may even do so well that it simply runs out of coins to go around. In that case all payments and thus transactions would stop (like a tea kettle that boils to a sudden drought), while there might still be plenty supply and demand available.
Fiat currency allows an entire economy to shed the constraints of being tied to earth and get airborne. It represents an incredible level of economic maturity, and even despite the obvious financial crisis of 2008, our present generations are the healthiest, wealthiest and most free human generations the world has ever seen. In a modern economy all worth depends on relative values, which arise from the tectonic relationships between commodities and markets, and these movements are all non-regulated and natural to human behavior. But its anchor, namely fiat money, is an artificial thing that needs to be produced and maintained. This requires government interventions, and this in turn attracts the cries of critics and the rumor that a cabal of evildoers tries to draw the world's wealth to itself. Fortunately, this is nonsense.
A den of robbers
Wealth only exists as part of an economy and in order for an economy to exist, the distribution of wealth must not exceed certain upper and lower values (nobody within an economy can be too rich or too poor, or else the whole thing stops; poverty, in effect, is a disconnectedness from the flow of wealth). Bandits of old accrued wealth to achieve safety and security for them and their people. In modern times the world is becoming one global village in which local poverty stifles global wealth and is therefore wholeheartedly combated with education and economic incentives.
Fiat currency, most fundamentally, requires the trust and trustworthiness of the partakers. A fiat-currency system can only exist when the level of inevitable counterfeiting remains below a certain level. A counterfeiter does not insert worthless currencies into the economy (as is commonly believed) because a counterfeiter's paper money is as worthless as government-issued paper money. The crime of a counterfeiter is that he directs communal economic value to his own interests (Ferrari's and Rolexes), and that may seem temporarily beneficial to a sub group but it really disadvantages the whole community.
A truly pleasant economy can only exist when all players are informed and wholeheartedly persuaded about the future dividend of today's honesty. This would require education by people who actually see what's going on, but it's not clear which of the perspectives got it right. So we'll just have to see, and take small, carefully calculated steps. In the meantime, it's crucial that we spread optimism and encouragement, and that the debate on how to do it is illuminated by the hope of actually getting somewhere.
Fiat currency is like those little side-wheels that keep a kid's bike upright until it learns to balance on its own. And when it does, these training wheels can come off with no ill effect. In the very near future, humanity will disconnect the world's economy from fiat currency in the same way, and switch to a global system of lateral exchange; a digital barter system, if you will, that is only governed by natural law (Isaiah 9:6). It'll be scary at first, and we'll probably topple over once or twice (Revelation 18:18-23), but we've always known this was coming, so we're going to have to stop sniveling and grow up. Our training wheels were invented specifically so that we could learn how to ride our bikes without them.
A house on sand
In the world of wisdom, the accrued value is knowledge. And the more comes into a society, the more goes around, the more gets produced, and the higher the standard of living rises. Plato left us some pretty clever ideas but he was also the father of a kind of fiat-theory: speculative theory that went all over the place and which was no longer obviously connected to any useful skill or knowledge about the observable world. Plato's ex nihilo theories gobbled up vast amounts of intellectual energy and sorely inflated the economy of learning for 1,500 years (Platonic speculation and Roman totalitarianism largely explains the darkness of the Middle Ages). The Platonic episode began to come to an end when during the European Renaissance, Plato's fiat-philosophy was shelved and Aristotle's scientific method became the norm. It took another few hundred years for humanity to regain the levels of sophistication and prosperity that had been common until the demise of the Roman Republic in the first century BC.
Today, the currency of the world of wisdom is of course the diploma (an official promissory note of redeemable value, and wholly exchangeable for money by means of a salary). Still, social polarization in its broadest sense is the last bastion of Platonic fiat-theory. Systems of belief are rooted for as if they are sport clubs; their merits incurred out of sentiment and not earned from results. People insist that things are "believed" out of a sense of reverence or obedience, or "disbelieved" out of opposite sentiments, without being critical about whether or not there's actually some real value behind the promise. Most religions today are cloaked forms of nationalism: from Russian Orthodoxy to Polish Catholicism to American Evangelism, which in turn encapsulate competing markets (Matthew 7:15). Most scientific disciplines (including physics and cosmology) are oblivious about other fields, have no idea about any bigger picture, and are almost wholly driven and funded by commerce.
Fiat-theory can be as detrimental to a society as fiat-currency can be: with unchecked speculation filling the concrete upon which our world stands with bubbles, and in time allowing the collapse of the whole of it. But its dangers have been clearly understood since antiquity. In the ninth century BC a famous duel occurred between Elijah (a Yahwist) and a group of four hundred priests of Baal. The name Baal means "Lord" and these people wholeheartedly prayed to the Lord, sung of the Lord, danced for the Lord and hoped in the Lord. But when they bet their lives on the Lord sending fire from heaven at their request, none was sent, and their religion was subsequently bloodily exterminated (1 Kings 18:19-40). This was not, as if commonly supposed, because they prayed to the wrong God (there aren't any; in 1 Kings 18:27 Elijah mocked the essence of religion itself), but because they were not in synch with the same righteous laws that set Elijah's altar demonstrably ablaze.
Likewise, when John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask of Jesus whether he was the One or not, Jesus did not hand them his resume or drag them through the finer points of salvation theology, but told them to look around and note that the blind were seeing, the lame were walking, lepers were healed, the deaf were hearing, the disenfranchised were being encouraged and even the dead were being raised (Matthew 11:2-6).
Ideas are great but results are all that count. And if a theory, by the sheer newness of its idea, has to cross a stretch of unexplored space, it must be expected to take the shortest possible route between two points of verified certainty. The more points of unconfirmed assertion a theory ties together, the greater the risk that it is nothing but a speculative bubble. If the emphasis lies on lots of talking and enormous words that mean very little, you're probably riding a speculative bubble that will soon pop. If, however, the emphasis lies on practical living, fellowship and care, economic stability, personal freedom and responsibility, education and stewardship, preventing and solving problems, veritable science, respect for history and the natural world, sound planning, and the continued invention of new and groovy technologies, you're in pretty good shape.
Ultimately, the world of wisdom will go through a similar evolutionary period as monetary currency. When its economy has been purified from too much contamination and speculation, a fiat system will arise that depends solely on the relative value of whatever is proposed and the whole of the remaining economy. But for everybody to easily make that comparison, a pocket-format summary of the whole of the economy must be available. That pocket-sized summary, you guessed it, is the mustard seed we described above.
The House on the Rock
When people say they believe in Christ, they don't mean that Christ is the subject of their belief, as if Christ is so minor a player on the reality stage that believing in him actually equals some kind of achievement. Instead, apart from all else, Christ is the environment in which people conduct their belief. People believe in Christ the way they dance in the rain (Acts 17:28). That's why they're not looking for Christ or even at Christ, but are in Christ (John 17:21, Romans 6:11, 12:5, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Ephesians 2:6).
Christ is not examined, but he is the arena in which we examine. And what do we examine? In Christ we examine everything! In Christ we look at all things (Matthew 11:27, Romans 8:32, 1 Corinthians 2:15, Ephesians 1:10, 2 Timothy 2:7), even the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10). And that's why God's revelation is πολυμερος (polumeros), or multi-sided, πολυτροπως (polutropos), or polymodal (Hebrews 1:1), and his wisdom πολυποικιλος (polupoikilos), or greatly varied (Ephesians 3:10).
Believing in Christ or in the name of Christ means believing without limits in everything, and results in a whole and unrestricted life (John 20:31), even one with a clear and perpetual view on the Creator himself (John 11:40). Faith is wholly free (Galatians 5:1). Faith always works (James 2:14-26). Faith does not stubbornly stick to a story, but investigates all things and incorporates emerging evidence (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Faith diligently avoids settling in fixed definitions (Exodus 20:4) but always keeps refining and responding (Psalm 12:6).
This kind of living faith is the only kind that expresses true reverence for the Creator, and goes flat against our natural human instincts to cling to some lifeless religion. It also sums up the first "four" commandments; the whole of the subset of the Ten Commandments that describes man's relation with the Creator (Exodus 20:1-7), minus the one that speaks of keeping the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11).
But living out of this kind of faith leads to an existence that is as different from natural life as a squirrel differs from a brick. When all of mankind's faith is completed, we'll enjoy a perpetual Sabbath and nothing that we can possibly imagine will be impossible for us to achieve; we'll race our mountain bikes all over the entire universe as if we had never had the need for training wheels (Genesis 11:6, Matthew 21:22, Mark 9:23, Luke 1:37, John 14:12, 1 Corinthians 3:21-23, 1 Timothy 6:17).
Derivations of the verb πειθω (peitho) and compounds it's part of
The magnificent verb πειθω (peitho), meaning to persuade, does not only yield the noun πιστις (pistis), or "faith" and its own derived verb πιστευω (pisteuo), to "believe", but a substantial list of important derivations and compounds that in turn may teach us something about what pistis actually is — the larger family of peitho, comprising pistis's many brothers, sisters, cousins and even three of its own children:
- Together with the preposition ανα (ana), meaning on or upon or in this case an emphatic: the verb αναπειθω (anapeitho), or to persuade with extra force (Acts 18:13 only).
- Together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning not or without: the adjective απειθης (apeithes), meaning asynchronous or discordant: not in line with common knowledge (Titus 1:16, 3:3), or instructions from people who know better (Luke 1:17, Romans 1:30) or even heavenly visions (Acts 26:19). This word describes an opposite of love, since love believes everything (1 Corinthians 13:7) and apeithes typically doesn't. Our word occurs 6 times, see full concordance, and from this adjective in turn come:
- The noun απειθεια (apeitheia), meaning asynchronicity or discordance, and this mostly by choice of obstinacy (hence the term "sons of...";). This word occurs 7 times; see full concordance.
- The elucidating verb απειθεω (apeitheo), which denotes an active resistance to a certain persuasion for whatever reason. In the New Testament this verb is used only to describe resistance to the persuasion the authors had in Christ (John 3:36, Romans 10:21, Acts 14:2) or God (Hebrews 11:31, Romans 11:30) or the Word (1 Peter 2:8), and this may constitute a baffling but recognizable mystery to people who now know the Lord: how it is possible that people resist learning about living well, namely according to the laws upon which observable nature operates. It's temptingly easy to ascribe this resistance to the failures of those who preceded us, but it's often equally due to a failure of ourselves to express the greater truths in the captivating daily newness of God's own mercy (Lamentations 3:22-23). This verb is used 16 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the adverb ευ (eu), meaning good: the adjective ευπειθης (eupeithes). This word occurs only once in the New Testament, in James 3:17, where it appears to describe an element of the character of someone who has high wisdom, namely easy going, easy to get along with.
- Together with the noun αρχη (arche), meaning beginning, first-one or ruler: the verb πειθαρχεω (peitharcheo), meaning to act in accordance with the expectations or instructions of someone in formal authority (Acts 5:29, Titus 3:1) or who has the authority of superior knowledge (Acts 27:21). This verb is used 4 times; see full concordance.
- The adjective πειθος (peithos), meaning persuasive (1 Corinthians 2:4 only).
- The noun πεισμονη (peismone), meaning (private) persuasion or conviction (Galatians 5:8 only).
- The noun πεποιθησις (pepoithesis), meaning trust or confidence. This noun occurs 6 times; see full concordance.
- The important noun πιστις (pistis), meaning sureness based on valuable information ("faith"). See above for more on this word. From this noun in turn derive:
- Together with the adjective ολιγος (oligos), meaning small or few: the adjective ολιγοπιστος (oligopistos), meaning not so tuned in, under-informed, or having little reason to be confident or ultimately successful. Tradition commonly relates this word as "ye of little faith" but that renders this word a religious nuance that it really doesn't have. English doesn't appear to have proper synonyms for this word (apart from "pea brain" or "mental midget") but it's what an experienced professional would say to some blundering amateur. This adjective occurs 5 times; see full concordance.
- The verb πιστευω (pisteuo), meaning to have sureness based on valuable information (to have "faith"). See above for more on this verb.
- The adjective πιστικος (pistikos), meaning causing belief. This word is only used to describe a quality of the oil with which Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus' feet (Mark 14:3 and John 12:3), and as discussed above, feet are that part of you with which you stand on solid ground, and are to the body what the senses are to the mind. Although this word is commonly translated with "pure", here at Abarim Publications we're pretty sure it doesn't mean that. This particular oil was nicknamed the love-oil and was spritzed on the beds of couples who were just married, so that the whole neighborhood smelled after the joy of a couple's wedding night, and everybody was made sure about this joy. That's why Mary did what she did, and Jesus said it had to do with his burial. Read our article on Nicodemus for a closer look at this amazing oil.
- The adjective πιστος (pistos), meaning steadfast or persuasive (in the sense of trustworthy or dependable) or persuaded (in the sense of having a solid and centralized mind). This amazing word is often translated with "believer" but that word has in our modern time assumed a religious and compliant meaning that our Greek word certainly does not possess.
Our Greek word describes the quality of a solid foundation, something that can be confidently counted on and build upon, and is as such part of the name of Christ as he appears in the form of the white horseman (Revelation 19:11), as well as a quality of the saved multitudes (Revelation 17:14). Our word has nothing to do with quiet compliance or adhering to some religion or school or thought, and is applied to trustworthy or dependable people (1 Corinthians 7:25, Ephesians 6:21, Colossians 1:7, 4:9, 1 Timothy 1:12, 1 Peter 5:12, Revelation 2:13), even in a strictly secular sense (Matthew 24:45, 25:21, Luke 12:42). It may be used as substantive, in which case it describes a steadfast person, which in practice would be someone who knows the Creator (John 20:27, Acts 10:45, Galatians 3:9), and in 3 John 1:5 this adjective is used as an adverb that describes such a person's conduct.
Our adjective is used to describe the dependable quality of specific statements (1 Timothy 1:15, 3:1, 2 Timothy 2:11, Titus 3:8), general messages (Titus 1:9, Revelation 21:5, 22:6), even less specified holy and trustworthy "things" (Acts 13:34). It also describes God (1 Corinthians 1:9, 10:13, 2 Corinthians 1:18) and specifically the Creator (1 Peter 4:19), the Lord (2 Thessalonians 3:3), Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:13) Christ as witness (Revelation 1:5, 3:14), as "he who calls and brings to pass" (1 Thessalonians 5:24), "he who promised" (Hebrews 10:23, 11:11), "he who forgives" (1 John 1:9). This magnificent word occurs 67 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
- The previous word combined with the particle of negation α (a) makes the adjective απιστος (apistos), which predictably means the opposite of the previous: not steadfast and not a suitable foundation to build upon: incredible (Acts 23:8), untrusting, suspicious or willfully stupid (Matthew 17:17), willfully deceptive or cheating (Luke 12:46) or simply not (yet) in the loop for whatever reason (1 Corinthians 7:12-15, 10:27, 14:22-24, 2 Corinthians 4:4, 6:14-15, 1 Timothy 5:8, Titus 1:15, Revelation 21:8).
Since the character of God is obviously evident, being splayed out all over creation, it takes some effort to not believe, and this certainly adds momentum to the words of Jesus when he instructed Thomas to be a pistos and not an apistos (John 20:27). Of course, when he said this, Thomas stood in front of him with his hands on his wounds, but still, since pistos is a quality of God, being apistos describes being ungodly. What also gets sadly lost in translation is that being pistos means both being trusting and being trustworthy, both being solid and solidifying, both confident and confidence instilling. Someone who is apistos is both doubting and doubt-worthy, both unsolid and de-solidifying, both scared and fear-spreading (and this mostly via mockery and satire). It's the pot, after all, that calls the cattle black. This word occurs 23 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn come:
- The verb απιστεω (apisteo), meaning to be dubious: both to actively distrust or disbelieve (Mark 16:1, Luke 24:11, Acts 28:24) or passively be untrustworthy (Romans 3:3, 2 Timothy 2:13). This verb is used 7 times; see full concordance.
- The noun απιστια (apistia), meaning dubiosity: both active distrust or passive lack of trustworthiness. It's not clear which of the two was the disposition of Jesus' townsfolk but it's what knocked the wind out of his miracles (Matthew 13:58, Mark 6:6), and does so consistently with everything (Matthew 17:20, Mark 9:24, Romans 11:20), but cannot touch the trustworthiness of God (Romans 3:3) or that of his people (Romans 4:20). This noun is used 12 times; see full concordance.
- The verb πιστοω (pistoo), meaning both to assure of and to become trustworthy through (2 Timothy 3:14 only).
- The previous word combined with the particle of negation α (a) makes the adjective απιστος (apistos), which predictably means the opposite of the previous: not steadfast and not a suitable foundation to build upon: incredible (Acts 23:8), untrusting, suspicious or willfully stupid (Matthew 17:17), willfully deceptive or cheating (Luke 12:46) or simply not (yet) in the loop for whatever reason (1 Corinthians 7:12-15, 10:27, 14:22-24, 2 Corinthians 4:4, 6:14-15, 1 Timothy 5:8, Titus 1:15, Revelation 21:8).