“Belief” As Used
The Greek noun for faith is pistis; the corresponding
verb is pisteuo. Combined, these forms are employed some 243
times in the New Testament. There is a great deal of confusion and
controversy in the community of “Christendom” as to the meaning of these
terms. Unfortunately, sectarian bias has clouded the understanding
of many on this important biblical theme.
In the Book of Acts
Depending on the context in which the words are found,
their meanings can vary. (1) Belief may involve merely being exposed
to certain data and acknowledging such as reliable. When Paul
heard of divisions within the church at Corinth, he said: “I partly
believe it” (1 Corinthians 11:18). He accepted the report as fairly
(2) Believing can go a step further, though, suggesting
the idea of trust. Knowing the temperament of men, Jesus did not
“trust” (pisteuo) himself to the Jews of Jerusalem (John 2:24).
God did “trust” Paul, however, and so committed the Gospel unto this apostle,
to be proclaimed in a ministry to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7).
(3) Belief can be used – and frequently is – in the full
sense of being obedient. Jesus taught: “He who believes
(pisteuo) on the Son has eternal life; but he who obeys not (apeitho)
the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36
ASV). [Note: The King James translators did not favor us by
rendering two different Greek terms by the same English word. An
important distinction was obscured. Cf. Hebrews 3:18-19 ASV.]
In the ultimate sense, therefore, to believe the Lord is to do what
he says, and a refusal to obey his will is an expression of
disbelief. This is a sobering thought.
The main focus of this study will be to consider how the
verb pisteuo is used in the Book of Acts. Pisteuo is
found some thirty-nine times in Acts. In the ASV, it is rendered
by such English terms as believe, believed and believers (a present participle
in Acts 5:14, i.e., believing ones). A careful study of the use of
this verb in the Book of Acts will reveal that in many instances “believing”
is a summary term that embraces all of the conditions inherent in
the divine plan of salvation, including the command to be immersed in water.
This is a crucial point since most denominationalists absolutely repudiate
the idea that baptism is a requisite to forgiveness. Let us, therefore,
give consideration to the following cases.
(1) Following Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, certain devout
Jews inquired: “What shall we do?” The apostle commanded them
to repent of their sins and be baptized for the remission thereof (2:38).
Those who “received his word were baptized” (41). Luke then says:
“And all that believed were together” (44). “Believed” sums
up the obedience described previously.
(2) On the initial day of its existence, the church consisted
of at least 3,000 souls. Later, Luke records that many others heard
the Word and “believed; and the number of the men came to be about five
thousand” (4:4). It is obvious that the 5,000 mentioned here included
the 3,000 referenced earlier, and that the “believed” of this passage means
precisely what it did in 2:44.
(3) After the baptism of Cornelius, the first Gentile
convert, Peter went to Jerusalem to defend his actions before a rather
hostile Jewish audience (cf. 11:2). He argued that God had authenticated
the Gentiles’ acceptance by giving them the Holy Spirit. The apostle
then said: “If then God gave unto them the like gift as he did also
unto us, when we [Jews] believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I, that
I could withstand God?” (11:17). Note that the entire conversion
process of the Jews (cf. 2:38) is simply referred to as “when we believed.”
(4) In the course of his first missionary journey, Paul,
together with Barnabas, came to the city of Iconium. They entered
into a synagogue of the Jews and proclaimed the Gospel of Christ.
There was encouraging response for Luke says that “a great multitude both
of Jews and Greeks believed” (14:1). Note the sentence that
follows. “But the Jews that were disobedient stirred up the
souls of the Gentiles, and made them evil affected against the brethren”
(ASV). The term rendered “disobedient” in the ASV is apeitheo,
which carries the idea of refusing to be persuaded, a failure to comply
(Thayer, 55). Moulton and Milligan, prominent experts in the Greek
papyri, cite numerous examples of where apeitheo means “to disobey.”
In conclusion they stated: “We have not sought for more instances,
but it has seemed desirable to give rather plentiful illustrations to prove
a case which is very important for doctrine” (55). Also review “(3)
Belief can be used . . .” in the fourth paragraph of this article.
(5) On his second missionary journey, Paul, along with
Silas, was imprisoned in Philippi. After a dramatic earthquake, by
means of which God opened the prison doors and loosed the inmates’ bonds,
the jailer pled for the knowledge of salvation. The brothers instructed
him. His penitent faith was evidenced as he washed the blood from
their backs and, near the midnight hour, he and his household were immersed
into Christ. But look at how Luke describes the whole process, “.
. . having believed in God” (16:34). The perfect participle
depicts the state at which they arrived as a consequence of their obedience.
(6) When Paul came to Ephesus on his third missionary
trip, he encountered certain sincere students who had been immersed with
the baptism that was a part of the teaching of John, the forerunner of
Christ (Acts 19:1ff; cf. 3:1ff). Perhaps something alerted the apostle
to a deficiency in their earlier instruction; he thus asked: “Did
you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied
in the negative. Paul then asked “Into what then were you baptized?”
He was not framing a new question on an entirely different theme.
Rather, baptism was a part of the belief process, concerning
which he had just inquired.
The examples cited above are but a sampling of those in
Acts which elucidate the nature of the faith required to be a Christian.
For the reader who wants to explore this matter further, we would suggest
that he take a look at some of the following passages (4:32; 8:12; 9:42;
10:45; 13:12, 48; 14:23; 15:5; 16:1; 17:12, 34; 18:8, 27; 19:18; 21:20,
25; 22:19). Belief, because it is the foundation of one’s
surrender to Christ, and because it is the motivating factor for
further obedience, is employed by Luke to reflect the entire process in
becoming a Christian – including repentance, acknowledgment of Jesus as
the Son of God and immersion in water. How can anyone contend that
the sole mental act “believing” in Christ represents the entire
plan of salvation?