Loyalty without works is dead

loyalty without works is dead

Juan Carmen, a brother loyal to our king.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has loyalty/faith but does not have works?

In the last couple of posts I have been dealing rather broadly with the subject of faith. First we looked at the apparent contradiction between faith and intellectual humility, and then we examined the meaning of the New Testament words associated with faith

There is an important subtlety here that is easy to overlook. I am not simply suggesting that we replace the word faith, with the word loyalty. You will remember from last week I said words are not pins in a map but are more like nations. They cover areas of meaning. Words in one language rarely cover exactly the same area of meaning as words in another language.

This is the origin of the saying “all translators are lairs.” Remember that the English word “faith” does encompass the meaning of loyalty. Our problem is that it is only a minor component of the word, and is not immediately apparent in everyday use.

It is my contention that while there are cognitive aspects attached to the biblical words translated as faith and believe, this is not where the emphasis usually lies. In English faith is usually associated with believing something without proof. In Greek, the equivalent word, pistos (πιστός) carries a much stronger connotation of loyalty.

It is not uncommon to see faith and works pitted against each other, and many words have been spent trying to explain the apparent discrepancy between the words of James and Paul. I suspect that many of those apparent discrepancies will appear much less significant if we can learn to hear scripture with first century ears. Notice how different our opening passage sounds as we start to emphasize the loyalty aspects of pistos. Continue reading

What is Biblical Faith?

biblical faith

Semper Fidelis: Are you as faithful to your Lord, as these men are to theirs?

Biblical faith often seems at odds with other Christian virtues such as humility. In my last post I shared some of my thoughts on the apparent conflict between intellectual humility and faith. In response Brandi Eissinger shared an excellent link which nicely defined intellectual humility as follows:

Intellectual Humility: Having a consciousness of the limits of one’s knowledge, including a sensitivity to circumstances in which one’s native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively; sensitivity to bias, prejudice and limitations of one’s viewpoint. Intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one’s beliefs.

It is my prayer that this attitude be clear in all that I write or speak, and I invite you to please call me down as soon as any other attitude is seen rising up in me. At the same time, I invite you to allow yourself exposure to some of the difficult ideas I offer here, and pray for our Lord to show His truth to you–to help you to accept, or if need be, to refute what I share.

There remains however, our problem with the popular understanding of “faith.” The meanings of words are not pins stuck in a map. They are more like nations whose borders expand and shrink with time and are occasionally prone to migration, bifurcation, or even extinction.

This link shows an animated map of Europe over the past thousand years and makes a good analogy for the way the semantic domains of words can change over time. A problem arises when this “semantic drift” affects our understanding of God’s word. This happens because we attach special significance to words in the Bible, and then fail to change our Bibles when the meaning of those words change, because of the culture we are embedded in. Continue reading

Intellectual Humility: A Hidden Christian Virtue

intellectual humility

Dare I ask for answers when I already know them?

What is intellectual humility, and why do I call it a hidden virtue? Quite simply, intellectual humility is the trait of humility applied to our intellect, that is, to what we think. The reason I call it a hidden Christian virtue is that most of us Christians don’t seem to think that it is a virtue at all. In fact many seem to consider it a defect of Christian character!

How is this so, you say? Well, consider the definition of humility. Merriam-Webster gives the following: the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people. If we remove the negative, it means thinking that other people are at least as good, or better than our-selves.

When we apply the definition of humility to the realm of the intellect and ideas it would therefore mean: the quality or state of not thinking your ideas are better than those of other people. Again removing the negative it would mean thinking that other people’s ideas or thoughts are at least as good or better than ours.

“Humility is the first of the virtues—for other people”–Oliver Wendell Holmes

Therein lies the rub! Intellectual humility seems to fly directly in the face of the first virtue of Christianity—faith. Faith is after all the prerequisite for being a Christian. Is not Christianity itself called a faith? Is not faith the assurance that what you think about certain things is absolutely true Continue reading

The Myth of a Gentile Church: What is Church—Part 5

What does a bucket have to do with the Gentile church?

Is this a bucket of metal, or a bucket of water?

Are you a part of the Gentile church, or the Jewish church? Does such a question even make sense in a New Testament context. Whole systems of theology are based on these seemingly legitimate questions. Yet my reading of the Greek New Testament convinces me that the “Gentile church” in a myth based on a misreading of the text, compounded by the use of Gentile–a word which the does not even have a Greek equivalent.

I closed my last post with controversial statement that if we want to continue translating the Greek word ethnos as “Gentile” we are forced to conclude that according to scripture, today”s Jews, who have not accepted Jesus as king, are Gentiles. Of course this makes no sense in English because in our language Gentile means “non-Jew.” Continue reading