The Faith

This article is designed to draw the reader’s attention to a use of the word “faith” which differs from its usual use in Scripture. As the other articles show, its principal use is to describe the attitude of trust that a person may have in God or Christ. But there are some occasions in Scripture where “the faith” describes the core beliefs of Christianity.

That certain words may “jump” from one meaning to another is well attested. The phenomenon is called metonymy. Metonymy is the process by which one name or noun is used instead of another to which it has a close relation. Thus, for example, the writer is sometimes substituted for his writings: “They have Moses [i.e., his writings] and the prophets [i.e., their writings]; let them hear them” (Luk 16:29);[1] the tongue for what is spoken by it: “they flatter with their tongue” (Psa 5:9); the sword for war: “I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Mat 10:34).

The clearest example of this specialised use of “faith” is in Jude where the Christians are called upon to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (v3). “The faith” here is “delivered” to the saints. Jude counsels the Christians to “contend” for this faith. Contend means “to struggle” or “fight.” Since the context of this epistle is focused on the need to defend Christian beliefs from false teachers, it is likely that contending for “the faith” refers to defending the content of faith. The issue in hand was Jude’s wish to encourage the Christians to defend the truths in which their faith had been placed.

Another earlier example of this usage appears in Galatians. Paul refers to the fact that he now preached “the faith which once he destroyed” (1:23). Again, the expression “the faith” is only intelligible if it refers to certain truths which define Christianity. Paul would not have sought to destroy faith as an animating feature of spiritual life. But he had been opposed to the Lord Jesus, His death and resurrection. Thus “the faith” is only intelligible here if it refers to what Christians believed.

Another example may be found in Philippians where he encourages Christians to strive together “for the faith of the gospel” (Php 1:27). His purpose is to encourage Christians to work together to promote the truths of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. “The faith” of the gospel are the basic truths that underpin the gospel.

Inevitably, there are occasions where it can be difficult to decide whether it is personal faith or the body of truth that is in view. Thus when Paul states, “I have kept [ten pistin] the faith” (2Ti 4:7), he probably has in mind “the form of sound words.” The NLT, however, translates, “I have remained faithful.” The following are examples of other occasions where “the faith” refers to the body of truth (Act 6:7; 2Co 13:5; Col 1:23; 1Ti 4:1; 5:8; 6:10).

It would be tempting to say that whenever the word has reference to the core beliefs of Christianity it is preceded by the definite article “the.” Unfortunately, things are not that straightforward. In the original text the definite article is used before the word “faith” where personal faith is in view. Thus, for example, Paul speaks of the “righteousness of God by faith” and uses the definite article before the word faith (te pistei). Likewise, Paul writes of Abraham’s personal faith, “being not weak in faith” (te pistei), with the definite article (Rom 3:22; 4:19).

That being so, the assertion that “the faith” may refer to doctrine depends on contextual rather than grammatical considerations.

It should be noted that there are parallel expressions that refer to the same idea. Paul refers to “the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me” (2Ti 1:13) and “that which is committed to thy trust” (1Ti 6:20). These expressions are to be regarded as co-extensive with “the faith.”

It is also evident that this term “the faith” was used to define Christian doctrine before the New Testament Scriptures had been completed and long before they were organised into the canon. “The faith” therefore is not co-extensive with Scripture, though “the faith” is to be found in Scripture.

What then is the content of the faith? Despite the value Christendom has placed on catechisms and confessions down through the years, and without wishing to suggest that these attempts to distil “the faith” are wholly without merit, it is a striking fact that the letters and treatises that constitute the New Testament canon make no attempt to produce an authoritative statement of “the faith.” That said, there are three portions of Scripture where distillations of truth are presented. The first is in the form of a summary of the key features of the assembly in Jerusalem as it continued in testimony for God after Pentecost: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Act 2:41-42).

The second is a summary of key Christian truths as they relate to the Godhead and is found in Ephesians: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (4:4-6).

The third is in Hebrews. The author sets out the principles of the doctrine of Christ and encourages his audience to make progress beyond these basic truths: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (6:1-2).

On October 11, 1521, the Pope conferred the title “defender of the faith” on Henry VIII of England and Ireland. When Henry broke with the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in 1530, the title was revoked. Parliament then took it upon itself to re-confer the title. To this day it is a title claimed by the Kings and Queens of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The lesson of this short article is that, in truth, every Christian is a defender of “the faith.”


[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.