This really bugs me. Faith and faithful are words that (to me, at least), have unrelated meanings (see also grace vs. graceful). Faith is belief, but faithful does not mean being ‘full of faith‘. Faithful means reliable, dependable, steadfast, trustworthy. If somebody is full of faith, I would not say “He is faithful“, I would say rather “He has faith.” And if somebody were to describe someone else to me as “He is faithful“, I would not assume that the person believes in something, but that I might do well hiring him as an employee.
Consider the presidential oath of office:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
If faithful means full of faith, just what is it the President is required to believe in order to faithfully execute his office? Would history not judge his faithfulness not by his beliefs, but by his works?
And that’s just in the realm of natural English. If we look at Biblical usage, faithfulness is the obedience required of the Israelites to maintain their status in the Mosaic covenant: “Do this and live”. But the New Testament obsolesces that covenant, and everywhere proclaims that we are justified by faith, and faithful obedience is a consequence: “It is done. Now go live”.
Still not convinced? Well here’s the kicker, as far as I’m concerned. Faithful cannot mean ‘full of faith‘, because we know that God is faithful, but it is nonsense to say that God has faith. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. There is nothing God does not see; omniscience has no need of evidence; God, who declared the end from the beginning, has spoken, and will bring it to pass — there is no hope (or need for hope) when there is sovereign predestination.
Well that’s a nice little rant, but the fact that God doesn’t have faith doesn’t actually prove that faithful cannot mean ‘full of faith‘. It only proves that ‘full of faith‘ cannot be an unequivocal definition for faithful.
As it turns out, there do exist people who can look at the word faithful, and sometimes read it as ‘full of faith‘ (my pastor is one of them). Maybe you are one of them too! Googling turns up this as a first definition:
1. Full of faith, or having faith; disposed to believe, especially in the declarations and promises of God.
You are not faithful, sir. –B. Jonson.
2. Firm in adherence to promises, oaths, contracts, treaties, or other engagements.
The faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him. –Deut. vii. 9.
3. True and constant in affection or allegiance to a person to whom one is bound by a vow, be ties of love, gratitude, or honor, as to a husband, a prince, a friend; firm in the observance of duty; loyal; of true fidelity; as, a faithful husband or servant.
So spake the seraph Abdiel, faithful found, Among the faithless, faithful only he. –Milton.
4. Worthy of confidence and belief; conformable to truth ot fact; exact; accurate; as, a faithful narrative or representation.
It is a faithful saying. –2 Tim. ii. 11.
The Faithful, the adherents of any system of religious belief; esp. used as an epithet of the followers of Mohammed.
Syn: Trusty; honest; upright; sincere; veracious; trustworthy.
Well, that’s from Webster’s of 1913, and even though the “wrong” definition is given first, its wrongness is reinforced by a quote that makes no sense in our vernacular. Definitions 2., 3., and 4. express the actual current usage (and are interestingly biblical!) Note also that none of the given synonyms match the “first” definition. Thinking that perhaps this was a feature of an outmoded dictionary, I checked my new Webster’s 11th Collegiate, but it also has “obs: full of faith” as the first (but obsolete) definition.
As a last resort, it might be possible to write off the non-relationship of faith and faithful as a coincidence of the English language. But Strong’s reveals that, in New Testament Greek, faith and faithful are indeed close kin: faith is pistis, and faithful is pistos, which both stem from root verb peitho, to persuade. So there is at least some textual, Biblical justification for requiring or allowing a relationship between faith and faithful.
Tune in next time, when I introduce a specific example…
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