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lexical meaning

Being Mindful of Bias

Being Mindful of Bias

In the Christian publishing world, there are always new research tools that aid in theological and biblical studies. One of the standard lexical tools is the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014). The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDNTT), which came out originally in 1976, was published under the leadership of Colin Brown as the general editor. This resource tool has been updated recently (2015) and edited and fully revised by Moisés Silva. Both the original version and the latest revision are very helpful.

Many times we forget that tools, whether they be study Bible notes or theological dictionaries, do not come neutral in their perspective. All of them have some form of bias built in. It is essential that we know this and work at spotting the bias as we use the tools carefully and not uncritically.

The revised NIDNTT article on pistis / pisteuo edited by Dr. Silva reveals some apparent bias. This is now the standard Lexical word study book that most students and pastors use after they read the newest edition of DBAG that has itself adjusted the meaning of pisteuo from the previous edition by adding commitment and obedience as essential to one’s life as evidence of real faith. The change in the latest edition of DBAG appears to be without any reference to new source material to validate the addition. I have selected a few portions of the article on pistis/faith from the NIDNTT that manifest a certain theological predisposition toward the usage of the term.

NIDNTT

Here “faithfulness” and “faith” stand close together—indeed, are conceptually inseparable. Abraham’s trust in the divine promise cannot be severed from his firm commitment and obedience (cf. his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, ch. 22), and therefore those who follow after his footsteps are both believing and faithful (see M. Silva, “Old Testament in Paul,” in DPL 630–42, esp. 640–41).[1]

Jesus himself lived by faith and encouraged others to follow his example (cf. J. Schniewind, Das Evangelium nach Markus [1931], 120). Expressions like ἔχετε πίστιν θεοῦ, “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22), and πρόσθες ἡμῖν πίστιν, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5), suggest a special kind of faith in God specifically related to Jesus. The antithesis between small and great (Matt 17:20 par. Luke 17:6) presents a contrast between the human attitude and the greatness of the promise. What takes place in a human being is small compared with the greatness that comes from God.

When Jesus spoke of such boundless faith, he appeared to be teaching something new. Yet his claims were distinct from wild enthusiasm, because they were inseparable from the act of speaking with God and even wrestling with him. It must not be forgotten that every summons and statement of Jesus contained the elements of faith, trust, knowledge, decision, obedience. His preaching cannot be understood apart from the many-sided aspects of faith and trust. The faith of Jesus was deeply involved in the act of living and was on a completely different plane from hypothetical abstractions.[2]

3 The Pauline tradition. (a) Paul’s ministry, though formed within the context of the Hel. Christian community, presupposes a continuity with the teaching of the Palestinian Jewish church. His calling by the risen Lord led him to grapple with the partic. questions raised by the churches. He naturally describes Christians as οἱ πιστεύοντες, “those who believe, believers” (Rom 1:16; 3:22; 4:11; 1 Cor 1:21). Their turning to God is described as an act of believing (1 Cor 15:2, 11). Thus ἡ πίστις denotes receiving the message of salvation and conducting oneself on the basis of the gospel (Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 2:5; 15:14, 17; note also the expression “one faith” incl. in Eph 4:4–6[3]

What is more significant, the thought forms in the Johannine writings are distinctive. Faith arises out of testimony, authenticated by God, in which signs also play a part. The call to faith is addressed to all people (John 1:7), and those who belong to the truth hear the call of God (18:37). Faith and knowledge are not two processes distinct from each other, but instructive coordinates that speak of the reception of the testimony from different standpoints (6:69; 17:8; 1 John 4:6). Faith alone receives the testimony and possesses knowledge; conversely, those who know the truth are pointed to faith. The hearer should understand that both are involved in salvation: acceptance of the testimony as well as the personal response and reformation that conform to the testimony.[4]

As in the paraenetic tradition elsewhere, James is conscious of the need for personal faith to be tested and proven (Jas 1:3; cf. 1 Pet 1:7). He demands renunciation of all conduct that conflicts with living faith and the Christian confession (1:6–8). For him, faith and obedient conduct are indissolubly linked. Faith understood merely as trust and confession is not able to save. Only through faithfulness does faith come to completion (2:22). The opponent that James has in mind does not attack faith as such but apparently exempts himself from obedience. (On the relationship between faith and works, see ἐργάζομαι G2237).[5]

The Roman Catholic Church sought to comingle justification and sanctification to a ruinous end. The reformation sought to differentiate but did not eliminate the connection completely. To the degree that we are confused in our lexical studies, we will have a corresponding confused theology. Exegetes, theologians and pastors are “verbavors”-consumers of words. We just need to be sure we understand their meaning.

Serving Him with you
Until He comes for us,
Fred Chay, PhD
Grace Theology Press
Managing Editor

[1] Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 763.

[2] Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 767.

[3] Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 767.

[4] Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 769–770.

[5] Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 771.