What does Faith mean?

Faith is a confusing homonym in the English language that when conveyed in a sentence it can be mistaken as many different things.  According to Dictionary.com there are eight different definitions for the word faith, ranging from a religions rubric to confidence.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church even adds a deeper spiritual 9th definition to the list!

Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature. -CCC 150

In a way we Catholics do like to redefine words and use our own terms as an inside way of communicating.

Lets go on a little faith entomology journey:

The Greek word most often used in the new testament Bible for “Faith” is pistis. Which in itself can translate into all the following “faith, belief, trust, confidence; fidelity, & faithfulness”. It might be notable that that word pistis is a goddess in the Greek pantheon of deities, her roman counterpart fides, is where we get the entomology of the word ‘Faith’ in the English form.

Hebrew is a crazy language to pull entomology from, many words have multiple meanings. Like the word “Honor” in the 4th commandment (Honor thy Father and Mother), comes from the Hebrew word ‘kābbēd (כָּבֵד) which in other places in the bible the same word for honor is translated as ‘grew strong’, ‘ glorify’ and even ‘heavy” Some Hebrew words have as many as 20 or more completely different meanings. That being proposed: There are lots of definitions to chose from for each Hebrew word, so if someone says this word in Hebrew means X, it could very well mean Y and Z as well. I like to think looking at all the definitions we discover what the words true root is, but we really need to rely on the expert translator to choose the correct language out out of the context of the word. Warning, I am not a Hebrew expert, so if you think I am wrong please go ahead and comment.

'Aman', like nailing down a board.

‘Aman’, like nailing down a board.

In Hebrew the word ‘aman’(אמן) (the root of the famous prayer ending word ‘amen’) means to believe strongly,  ‘to secure’ like nailing down a board that is firmly planted in the ground. From ‘aman’ we get the word ‘emun’(אֵמֻן) and meaning ‘to support’ or more literally ‘The thing that is securing’, it can be even used to describe the person securing; ie a professional craftsman. And then from the word ‘emun’ we get ‘emunah(אֱמוּנָה) which is the biblical word in Hebrew used for ‘faith’, this means the action of the ‘emun’ as that of being a firm secure act. It seems the word ‘emunah’ translated ‘faith’ in the Bible means more than simply agreeing, believing, or knowing something that cannot be proven; but is actually acting upon something they know to be true. It is the act of the ‘craftsman’; sure, practiced, professional, and intentional.


Faith is a sure action.

Let’s apply this definition “a secure firm act” to the word faith in the new testament and see what we get. We begin with Jesus’ words in Matthew 21:21, where he says. “.. if you have faith and do not waver… if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done.”. It now seems as if Jesus is telling us to ‘do’ rather than to ‘believe’.  There is a deeper understanding for the reader in Mark chapter 2 where the friends of the paralytic lower him through the roof and then the scriptures say: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’ “  Jesus saw the ‘faith’, or the firm secure action of his friends, risking it all to lower him through the ceiling, their belief in Jesus was seen as a confident act. I know of many places in scripture, the hemorrhaging woman(Mark 5:34), the Centurion and his daughter (Luke 7:9), & many others (Mark 10:52, Matthew 9:13, Luke 17:19) where Jesus mentions someones’ ‘faith’, and it always is after someone physically acts as if Jesus is divine.

Now you might wonder, why did I talk about Greek earlier?  The Gospels where written in Greek, not Hebrew!  Meaning that the Hebrew root ‘enumah’ would not have been used in the test. Only Jews reading the gospels might have come to a similar conclusion as we just have. I believe that the idea of ‘Faith’ meaning ‘a secure firm act’ is still an appropriate definition. Acting on what you believe, trust, know to be true, or the name of your religion; is in fact the pinnacle of what the Catechism tells us that faith is in fact an “act”:

“Faith is a human act: Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act.” -CCC 154

So what does faith mean to me? I already told you: It is the act of the ‘craftsman’; sure, practiced, professional, and intentional. The craftsman is God, and we are his work. I often say as a mental mantra every time I hear the word ‘faith‘ in passing a Father Riccardo quote, “Faith is God’s work in me, to which I respond.”

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