Three Elements of Faith

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 11.34.33 AMHis contention is that faith means “allegiance.”

Why? Because that’s what our gospel requires and because that is what the term “faith” (pistis) means.  The old question, “What is saving faith?” is the question Matthew Bates is actually answering, and it is an old theological question. (See Matthew Bates Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King.)

Money quote:

The gospel reaches its zenith with Jesus’s installation and sovereign rule as the Christ, the king. As such, faith in Jesus is best described as allegiance to him as king (77).

Bates is on all fours here: one can’t figure out the response to the gospel until one understands what the gospel is. It is perhaps here that the critical point is reached in this discussion. If the gospel is Jesus died for you so you can go to heaven and you are a self-seeking, merit-seeking egoist, then faith as trust is the response. Without denying at least the thrust of that point, I would contend the gospel is more than that but encompasses that. The gospel is as Bates has said: the response, then, must be more than the soterian gospel’s response. The Bible teaches both and we need a gospel and a response that matches the Bible’s magnitude, not one that reduces it.

The semantic domain — range of meanings — of pistis is wide and not identical to or restricted to allegiance. Bates is not restricting here; he’s going for the meaning of the term when connected to the gospel itself. He thinks allegiance is an overarching term for all its meanings, including faith, belief, trust, etc..

The term does mean allegiance in the world of the New Testament. BAGD, our authoritative lexicon for NT Greek terms, often has the entry as “faithfulness” (Matt 23:23; Rom 3:3; Gal 5:22; 2 Thess 1:4). He then quotes 3 Macc 3:2-4:

While these matters were being arranged, a hostile rumor was circulated against the Jewish nation by some who conspired to do them ill, a pretext being given by a report that they hindered others from the observance of their customs. The Jews, however, continued to maintain goodwill and unswerving loyalty [pistis] toward the dynasty; but because they worshiped God and conducted themselves by his law, they kept their separateness with respect to foods. For this reason they appeared hateful to some (79).

Bates is right; this is common in Josephus.

He then turns to texts like those above from Paul with this reminder: “If we remember that the allegiance concept welds mental agreement, professed fealty, and embodied loyalty, foregrounding allegiance makes excellent contextual sense in all of these crucial passages” (82).

By the way, what happens in evangelism if we appeal to people to surrender their allegiance to Jesus? What do we gain? Do we lose anything? 

He continues:

I would argue that the probability that Paul specifically intends to foreground the allegiance aspect of pistis in passages such as these is moved from possible to highly probable when we consider that, for Paul, Jesus above all is the Christ or the Lord. “Jesus is Lord” is in fact where the gospel above all reaches a climax. When Paul speaks of Jesus Christ—and note that he does speak in this way every time Jesus is mentioned in all of the passages quoted above—Christ is not a last name or a meaningless addition; it is an honorific designation.12 It means Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the long-anticipated but now ruling Jewish-style universal king. I cannot overstate the importance of this. In other words, Paul everywhere presupposes that the most basic identity of Jesus is that of the enthroned divine-human king, the actively ruling Son of God. So contextually the most obvious and natural way to speak about the proper relationship between the king and his people is allegiance or loyalty (82-83).

He calls in sentries for support:

N. T Wright declares, “For Paul, pistis is the personal allegiance to the God who was now to be known as ‘the God who raised Jesus from the dead’; personal confession that ‘Jesus is Lord.'” Michael Gorman helpfully describes faith for Paul as “believing allegiance” or “trusting faithfulness.” Meanwhile, John Barclay, in his Paul and the Gift, frequently speaks in ways that would suggest that he thinks Paul construes faith as allegiance: “What now counts for worth is only one’s status in Christ, and the consistency of one’s allegiance to him”; “[Paul’s] allegiance is now exclusively to Christ, the source of his new life in faith.” … In particular, Richard Hays has contended that some of the passages in Paul that have traditionally been translated “by faith in Jesus Christ” would be better translated “by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”

And what about that amazing expression “the obedience of faith”?

The gospel concerning his Son . . . through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith in behalf of his name among all the nations. (Rom. 1:3, 5)

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus the Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery F J
kept secret for long ages but now disclosed and through the prophetic writings, having been made known according to the command of the eternal God in order to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations. (Rom. 16:25-26)

Back to the gospel of Jesus as Lord:

If we recognize that the climax of the gospel is Jesus’s enthronement and that pistis is predominately allegiance, then Paul’s point is lucid: the gospel is purposed toward bringing about the practical obedience characteristic of allegiance to a king—what I have termed enacted allegiance. The gospel and Paul’s mission are aimed at bringing about embodied allegiance to Jesus the king among the nations (86).

Finally, he contends empire or imperial rhetoric leads us to see “faith” as “allegiance.”

Bates then examines faith as trust in the promise as faith in the God who promises redemption in a wide sense through the seed … but in all this he is headed to his three-fold breakdown of faith as allegiance. Faith has these three elements:

  1. Mental affirmation/intellectual agreement: certain enough to yield.
  2. Professed fealty to Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9-10).
  3. Enacted loyalty to the king, as in the obedience of faith.
About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.