The Claim by Dr. Matthew Bates:
Pistis Means Faithfulness in Salvific Contexts
Recently (June 3, 2017) I was involved in a debate about saving faith on Moody Radio’s Up for Debate program. I debated Dr. Matthew Bates, author of Salvation by Allegiance Alone. You can listen to the debate by clicking here.
The host gave Bates the opening statement and he went immediately to the leading lexicon for the NT, BDAG. He said that it indicates that the word pistis, normally translated as faith, actually means faithfulness, fidelity, and loyalty in contexts dealing with the new birth and justification.
Thus he concluded that justification (or salvation) is actually by our faithfulness, by our fidelity, by our allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Bates Misrepresented BDAG on Pistis
In a short radio program I did not feel I had time to get into dealing with BDAG, so I began discussing actual texts.
But the reality is, Bates totally misrepresented what BDAG is saying.
The lexicon Bates cited does not say that the Greek word pistis normally, or at least in salvific contexts, means fidelity, faithfulness, or loyalty in the NT, which is what Bates implied. Quite the opposite.
BDAG says concerning pistis: “ranging in meaning from subjective confidence to objective basis for confidence” (p. 818).
Over 90% of the Time According to BDAG Pistis Refers to Faith
“Subjective confidence” refers to someone (the subject) believing something (the object). The subject has confidence in the object of faith.
BDAG lists over 180 NT passages as using pistis—out of about 240 total uses of pistis in the NT—to refer to “subjective confidence,” that is, to faith (pp. 818-20).
Less than 5% of the Time According to BDAG Pistis Refers to Faithfulness, Fidelity, Loyalty
“The objective basis for confidence” refers to that which is believed. In the NT the Lord Jesus Christ is the object of faith.
BDAG lists only nine NT passages which they suggest refer to “the objective basis for confidence,” that is, to faithfulness, fidelity, or loyalty (p. 818).
Thus BDAG says that less than 5% of the time pistis refers to something other than faith. And when it does, it is referring to the object of faith being faithful.
BDAG Says That Faith Is Reasonable Because God, Not Us, Is Faithful
It is true that the first meaning BDAG gives for pistis is “that which evokes trust and faith—the state of being someone in whom confidence can be placed, faithfulness, reliability, fidelity, commitment” (p. 818). However, that definition is discussing the object of faith—that which evokes trust and faith, not faith itself. Thus that definition is talking about God, not man. God is the One in whom confidence can be placed. He is faithful. He is reliable. He is committed to doing what He promises.
There are approximately 244 uses of pistis in the NT. BDAG only cites nine NT passages under this definition. Clearly BDAG is not suggesting that this is the main way in which the word is used in the NT.
The second meaning BDAG gives is “state of believing on the basis of reliability of the one trusted, trust, confidence, faith” (p. 818). They go on, “in the active sense = believing in reference to deity.”
BGAD cites approximately 185 NT passages under this definition! Clearly this is the main way in which the word is used in the NT.
The third meaning it gives is “that which is believed, body of faith/belief/teaching” (p. 820). Here BDAG cites thirteen passages.
So, in terms of how often pistis is used, the normal meaning according to BDAG is faith, belief, believing!
The second meaning, far behind, refers to the entire body of truth which we believe, that is, the faith.
The third meaning refers to God’s faithfulness, reliability, fidelity, etc.
Bates totally misrepresented the lexical evidence. The NT never says that in order to be justified or born again we must be faithful or loyal. It says that God must be faithful for Him to regenerate us. The only condition for us, according to the NT, is faith in Christ, believing in Him for the life He promises.
God is faithful. God is loyal. God does not require faithfulness on our part to gain what Bates calls “final salvation.” Instead, God requires us to believe in Him because He is faithful, dependable, reliable.
Bates Ignores Pisteuo, the Verb for Believing
It should be noted that Bates mainly ignored in the debate and in his book the Greek verb pisteuo, which refers to believing. Pisteuo occurs 100 times in John’s Gospel, the only evangelistic book in the Bible. But pistis does not occur at all in John’s Gospel. Certainly Bates should have discussed the verb. Maybe the reason he didn’t is because BDAG gives as the first meaning of pisteuo: “to consider something to be true and therefore worthy of one’s trust, believe” (p. 816). Quoting that would certainly not help his argument.
BDAG says the second meaning of pisteuo is “to entrust oneself to an entity in complete confidence, believe in, trust” (p. 817). It also lists three other minor meanings (e.g., “entrust,” John 2:24).
What did the Lord mean when He asked Martha, “Do you believe [pisteueis] this?” (John 11:26)? Was He asking about her loyalty? Clearly not. He had just told her about His loyalty to those who believe in Him. He was asking if she was convinced that He indeed guarantees resurrection and everlasting life to all who believe in Him. And John 11:25-27 is a vital salvific passage in John’s Gospel. Compare the purpose statement in John 20:31.
Justification Is by Faith Alone, Not by Allegiance Alone
The idea that pistis and pisteuo mean that we must be faithful in order to have everlasting life is preposterous. Justification is by faith alone. It is not by allegiance alone.