What Do We Do with Albert Schweitzer? An Inquiry into Faith.

Albert_Schweitzer_NobelSince my university days I have been familiar with the name of Albert Schweitzer, his work having come up repeatedly during my study of Biblical Higher Criticism. Over the ensuing years his name has come up on several other occasions, and most compellingly in the context of a particular story about his life—that Schweitzer, unable to enter the mission field directly, pursued a medical degree so he could become a medical missionary. This spoke to such a measure of resolve, and to such unusual spiritual devotion in a scholar, that I wanted to know more about the man. The result was a journey through Schweitzer’s autobiography, Out of my Life and Thought (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1949), a book that in the end left me wondering if in fact Schweitzer was a Christian at all.

Schweitzer very nearly defines what it means to be a polymath. Born in 1875 in what was then the Alsace region of Germany, he grew up bilingual, later publishing books in both French and German. Educated in Germany and in the midst of the heyday of German Higher Criticism, his seminal contribution was the book “The Quest for the Historical Jesus.” Having earned a PhD in theology, he became a theological instructor as well as a licensed minister in the German Lutheran church. In addition to his academic pursuits, Schweitzer was also a performance organist, traveling and giving concerts, penning manuals on the proper execution of Bach’s organ pieces, and even writing tracts on organ repair and organ building. To the shock of his friends, family, and peers, at thirty years of age he resigned his post as a theology instructor and curate and entered into medical school so that he could become a missionary. His resolve to do this was formed some years before, and Schweitzer’s own words are worth recounting here,

The plan which I meant now to put into execution had been in my mind for a long time, having been conceived so long ago as my student days. It struck me as incomprehensible that I should be allowed to lead such a happy life, which I saw so many people around me wrestling with care and suffering… Then one brilliant summer morning at Günsbach, during the Whitsuntide holidays—it was in 1896—there came to me, as I awoke, the thought that I must not accept this happiness as a matter of course, but must give something in return for it. Proceeding to think the matter out at once with calm deliberation, while the birds were singing outside, I settled with myself before I got up, that I would consider myself justified in living till I was thirty for science and art, in order to devote myself from that time forward to the direct service of humanity. Many a time already had I tried to settle what meaning lay hidden for me in the saying of Jesus! “Whosoever would save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel shall save it.” (Out of My Life and Thought, 84-85)

Medical degree in hand, he then headed to what is today Gabon in Africa, where he and his wife built a medical clinic from the ground up and served faithfully for a number of years, through the first World War, returning to Europe to raise funds through concert tours, and returning again to Africa to continue his service.


Schweitzer’s autobiography ends in the late 1930s, but after the Second World War he was awarded the Nobel Prize for a speech he gave, “The Problem of Peace,” and he later worked with Einstein to advocate for the abolition of nuclear bombs. He died in 1965 at age 90.

Schweitzer was a truly remarkable man—clearly brilliant, gifted, motivated, and compelling. His sacrifice and dedication to his work shines a poor light on our own weak contributions to the benefit of humanity. But one looming question lurks in the background of Schweitzer’s life—was he actually a Christian?

This is a scandalous question. Who am I, after all, to attempt to judge the faith of another professed Christian, and above all one whose service seems so unobjectionably clear? And yet what Schweitzer’s life exhibits is the tension between confessional and ethical Christianity. Is a person made a Christian by his profession of faith, or by his works before the Lord? Romans 10:9 is a passage (among others) that makes it explicit that the confession of Jesus is of paramount importance, while the judgment of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 seems to make it clear that our conduct is the standard of judgment. Which is it, and where does Schweitzer fall, and are we even fit to make these kinds of judgments?

Let’s consider the final concern first—are we fit to make these kinds of judgments? The answer must be yes—for each of us, and especially for me as a member of the clergy, it is doctrinally, pedagogically, and missionally imperative that we outline the proper boundaries of Christian faith. It is doctrinally imperative because when we confess the truth of Christianity we are confessing a specific truth—being a Christian means a specific, bounded thing. Pedagogically it is imperative because we must instruct believers on what it means to be followers of Jesus—uncertainty in the definition of Christian faith means uncertainty for the people of God. Finally, it is missionally imperative because the profession of faith is actually central to our witness—how will we tell others how to become Christians if we are uncertain of what it means to be a Christian at all? And therefore we make judgments—we must make judgments—outlining the boundaries of Christian faith, seeking to faithfully declare what is “in” and what is “out.” We must do this of course with both humility and grace. Humility, because we are not omniscient and therefore don’t know the work the Lord is doing in a person’s heart at a given moment; grace because God is clearly more liberal with His salvation than we would be were we Him.


Clear boundaries create clear expectations.

When it comes to Scripture, then, what do we make of the difference between Romans 10:9 and Matthew 25? Is our salvation based on what we have done, or what we have confessed? The answer is abundantly both. The confession of faith is essential—that we believe Jesus came, died, and rose from the grave on the third day, and is today Lord of all. The essence of Christianity is the confession of the resurrection of the Son of God. But that confession alone is insufficient—it is not enough to say the words, there is also an expectation of conversion—as a consequence of our confession, our way of life must exhibit our belief. James 3:14-17 says it clearly,

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

And yet works themselves are not a substitute for faith, because we cannot purchase God’s favor. If we believe our works earn us good things from God, then we believe that we can effectively buy God, and thereby we make Him a debtor—putting God under our own, human power. This is a line of thinking that Paul in Romans is at pains to eradicate. There is no way to win salvation by our work, but work must be the natural fruit of our salvation.

This has been a point of contention throughout the history of Christianity. Good people are not saved because of their goodness, and sacrificial people are not saved because of their good deeds. People are saved because of their belief in the Christian witness, in their confession of the person of Jesus Christ. But saved people are expected to display that salvation in works.

schweitzer_Time MagazineAnd this brings us back to Schweitzer. Throughout reading his autobiography, I found I was never entirely certain of whether or not he was actually a Christian. There is no recounting of his own conversion, instead he appears to be a product of a kind of nationalistic Lutheranism—a cultural Christianity which is as inherited as his Alsatian heritage and which assumes that he is Christian because he is Lutheran. Furthermore, the thoughts he recounts about faith and Christianity focus on the purely ethical—he appears to envision Christianity as a solution to the ethical dilemmas of his day, but he appears to do this to the exclusion of the traditional Christian witness. Christ, in other words, is a supreme example, but not a resurrected Lord. “Reverence for life,” Schweitzer’s primary ethical formulation, in context appears to be less indicative of studied Christian faith and more of German higher education in the early 20th century. And while it seems abundantly clear that he lived out what he believed to be Christianity in his time and context, it is also clear that Schweitzer would identify as an ethical, rather than a confessional, Christian.

The conflict between these perspectives was most clearly exhibited when Schweitzer applied to enter the mission field as a medical missionary. What follows is his own record of that situation when his application went before the committee:

But the strictly orthodox objected. It was resolved to invite me before the committee and hold an examination into my beliefs. I could not agree to this, and based my refusal on the fact that Jesus, when He called His disciples, required from them nothing beyond the will to follow Him. I also sent a message to the committee that, if we are to follow the saying of Jesus: “He that is not against us is on our part,” a missionary society would be in the wrong if it rejected even a Mohammedan who offered his services for the treatment of their suffering natives. Not long before this the mission had refused to accept a minister who wanted to go out and work for it, because his scientific conviction did not allow him to answer with an unqualified Yes the question whether he regarded the Fourth Gospel as the work of the Apostle John. (Out of My Life and Work, 114-115)

Refusing, then, to meet with the committee, instead he made personal visits to each member. In time, they explained further their theological concerns (that he would confuse the missionaries), and their concern that he would wish to preach. Schweitzer continues,

Thus on the understanding that I would avoid everything that could cause offense to the missionaries and their converts in their belief, my offer was accepted, with the result indeed that one member of the committee sent in his resignation. (Out of My Life and Work, 115-116)

It was clear, even in his own time, that Schweitzer held unorthodox positions, and that he was admitted to the mission field on restricted terms (for the record, he later breaks his commitment and preaches anyway). But his unwillingness to be theologically examined is in itself troubling, and would exclude him today from service in almost any missions organization.

Schweitzer did indeed live out what he believed to be a kind of Christianity in his time and context, and compared to many of his higher theological peers, he shines as a paragon of faith. And yet, Schweitzer’s ethical faith was a thing mostly of his own construction, albeit shaped according to the particular needs of his time. From the perspective of orthodox Christian confession he falls far short, and does not appear to contain either a confession of the Lordship of Jesus or belief in his resurrection (the two components of Romans 10:9). Final judgments, of course, are restricted to us, because the salvation of a man’s soul is ultimately the business of God and God alone, and therefore what work He did and has done in Schweitzer’s heart is unknown to us. And yet, from the evidence we possess, it would appear that Schweitzer’s life and work eschew the confession of Christ as Lord, and uphold a noble, if insufficient ethical practice. Good deeds are great, but can never win salvation, and if good deeds are all that Schweitzer offers, then for all his learning, we must conclude that salvation is not his.

16 comments on “What Do We Do with Albert Schweitzer? An Inquiry into Faith.

  1. Steven Hoyt says:

    the problem here is only because of conflation. faith is not belief, and to profess a belief is an act, and one cannot choose what to believe about anything, including christ; one believes what seems to be the case, in all cases, and this is a response from experience and always is.

    pistis is the word “faith” represents. pistis is a response to grace (god’s active presence in the world). both are gifts. god is the good. we are all drawn to the good; this is faith. salvation and atonement are through participation with the good, in the good.

    one needn’t give a name to anything or confess some particular narrative about these things in order to have salvation. it is theology to say god is goodness. it is fact to say we are all drawn to the good, fact to say we find ultimate meaning in being a certain way in the world. it is theology to say why we do.

    if what makes a christian a christian only the particular ideas different communities of jesus followers have, then we are speaking about communities alone. if we see by action that one is living as jesus did, then whatever his thoughts of jesus (including none), he and his particular community of like-minded folks merely fall into the same category of jesus followers with different views on jesus than other communities following jesus. this includes all people, all faiths, and non believers as well.

    we only judge what is right and true by fruit, not dogma.

    • jmichaelrios says:

      Hi Steven, I’m having a little trouble working out where you’re coming from on this. Maybe the biggest thing I would need cleared up is whether you believe the Scriptures are authoritative in matters of faith and salvation. If you do, then we can discuss more specifically what it means for Romans 10:9 to instruct us to “confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead.” Confession there implies content, and content that includes a quite particular narrative. If, on the other hand, you don’t hold the Scriptures authoritative in this way, then I would be compelled to ask you to which authority you do in fact hold, and the discussion might move on from there.

      • Steven Hoyt says:

        it has to be noted what you mean by authoritative. for instance, you may hold that the bible “is worth something” because it is literally god’s words not just god’s word (ie logos, or intent, and so on). you may hold the most common meaning which is that the bible is the basis of theology but whose only authority is the church (see john henry cardinal newman, edward schillebeeckx, and so on).

        what i do hold as matters of fact are that the bible doesn’t provide in itself any exegetical means or mode or hermeneutics about itself except to clearly say over and again, fruit is the measure. likewise, scripture is silent on what atonement is or how it works. however, the OT and NT clearly state that salvation is found in repentance, and that, by keeping god’s word (again, logos is not a book, writing, or person … it is divine mind, will, intent, etc).

        does scripture have things to say sorry hearing? sure. from the mouth of god or not, to you and me both, it doesn’t matter in any case because asserting it so doesn’t make it so, and even were it so, god is not interpreting it for us; obviously, given the great diversity of beliefs in christendom.

        acquiescing to these facts, all but a narrow, freckle on an elephant’s butt, margin of fundamentalists talk about some inherent authority in the bible itself and instead, provide that the authority of scripture is found in its interpretation by the church.

        the bible exists. reality exists. god may indeed have created both, but what the bible is, means, and says are all interpreted, just in the same way even the most rigorous of sciences are interpretations whose ideas have merit only in that they bear fruit universally, and the authority is not reality but in those who study it and for reasons aside from mere group agreement, agree to the reasons justifying some model of reality. in theology, some model of thinking about christ.

      • Steven Hoyt says:

        if you understand that pistis in NT greek is “persuasion” and not “belief or ascent to the verity of some proposition”, then you will see the conflation that one must confess some proposition as true and believed versus the scriptural basis of grace leading to a persuasion, a draw, to something, and that something is the good; ie god. and that, only through our likeness to god and to the extent of that likeness by which god’s nature can resonate with and within us.

        belief, in the mistaken sense you have is 1) impossible (one cannot choose what to believe about anything, including god) and 2) suggests that “there is nothing you can do to be saved, except believe” is not contradictory or a special case where works don’t save, but works do save; ie belief, confession of certain beliefs, assenting to some proposition, which good is most definitely not.

        with me here?

    • jmichaelrios says:

      Right. Well, I think there’s a little more complexity to interpreting pistis than you have given it here, and to assume that because the root is peitho (I persuade) all meanings of pistis are persuasion as well is simply the exegetical fallacy. Context informs meaning in diverse situations. So, yes, to “believe” and “disbelieve” are cognates of “to be persuaded” and “to be unpersuaded,” but “disbelieve” is also a cognate for “disobey.” So there is quite a broad set of thoughts tied together in Greek around these words.

      What remains unclear is precisely where you, personally, situate authority in this discussion. Yes, the Scriptures appeal to fruit as a sign of salvation, but not solely to fruit–or, at least, fruit is broadly defined (manner of life [anastrophe]) holiness, moral purity, fruits of the Spirit, faith itself, obedience, and so forth). If you want to use fruit as the category, and you want to appeal to Scripture to defend that position, then you also need to account for all the ways that the Scriptures describe fruit. If the Church is authoritative, then we must appeal to the teaching of the Church, which also demands confession and belief (and fruit in addition to that).

      So, where in your estimation is the locus of spiritual authority in matters pertaining to salvation? On what basis do you believe?

      • Steven Hoyt says:

        i think i was pretty clear in saying there is nothing about scripture which has authority, just as reality is not authoritative. both are objects we reference in uttering some sentence about either.

        i put no stock in the church as an authority on scripture, but i very much do in history, in scholarship and scholasticism, anthropology, and so on; these, and experience, form and inform our interpretations of scripture.

        • jmichaelrios says:

          So, interpretation is authoritative, but Scripture is not? It sounds like pure subjectivism to me–subjectivism veiled in the election of favored disciplines (history, scholarship, etc.). It also sounds like you are eschewing the value of reality, or at least claiming that reality is a fluid construct grounded in the viewer. But this is intolerable–if there is no reality, how can we, who have never met, have a coherent conversation? There must be something to which we both appeal (reality), and if the Scriptures are what they claim to be then they recount a particular event in reality. Ergo, if realty exists, and if the Scriptures attest to that reality, then our agreement or disagreement is not so much a matter of interpretation as it is of simple obedience.

        • Steven Hoyt says:

          no. not at all. “reason to assert”, whether it’s too do with scripture or anything else we’re questioning, is.

          too, all things are subjective, and objective is not the opposite of subjective.

      • Steven Hoyt says:

        i don’t mean to belabor the point, but when i give the meaning of pistis, consider that it may come from years of theological endeavor and is not reducible to poor exegesis. i have a link to the concordant entry and in it, all commentary from theologians represented, express the very same intents and meanings as i have … what i’m about to post is a brief but thorough history of the word “pistis”.

        maybe read it later, but it’s theologically imperative to understand this one concept perhaps more than any other in this day and age; as the meaning today is associated with belief as i described and this is a result of enlightenment thinking and cultural adoption … which we cannot do when reading scripture.

        • Steven Hoyt says:

          A. The 1st is the feminine singular noun pisteos (pi/stew$), which is from pistis (pivsti$ ), which has the following
          1. Pisteuo (pivsteuvw) (verb), “to believe, to be confident in, to be convinced by.”
          2. Pistis (pivsti$) (noun), “faith, doctrine, trust, confidence, belief.”
          3. Pistos (pivstov$ ) (adjective), “trustworthy, reliable, trusting, faithful, believing.”
          4. Pistoo (pivstovw) (verb), “to make faithful, to prove oneself faithful in something, to show oneself faithful.”
          5. Apistos (a)pivstov$ ) (adjective), “unbelieving, faithless, unfaithful, incredible, untrustworthy.”
          6. Apisteo (avpistevw) (verb), “to disbelieve, to distrust, to disobey, to be unfaithful, to betray a trust.”
          7. Apistia (avpistiva) (noun), “unfaithfulness, distrust, a state of unbelief.”
          8. Oligopistia (ovligopisto$ ) (noun), “little faith.”
          9. Oligopistos (ovligopistiva) (adjective), “one of little faith, lacking trust.”
          B. Classical Usage
          1. First attested of the words with pis-t- is the (verbal) adjective pistos, with the privative apistos.
          2. It has the active and passive senses of “trusting” and “worthy of trust” (“reliable”).
          3. It bears only the latter sense in Homer, but, since apistos is used by him for “distrustful” (e.g., Odyssey 14,
          150), it is evident that both meanings are original; they recur in the noun pistis.
          4. Rudolph Bultmann commenting on the noun’s classical usage, writes, “Pistis means a. (abstractly)
          ‘confidence,’ trust,’ with reference in this sense to persons, relations (Thucydides I, 120, 5) and also things.
          In so far as it contains an element of uncertainty, trust can be contrasted with knowledge, Sophocles Trach.
          588-593 and expressly in Plato (Resp. VI, 511d-e). Nevertheless, it can also mean “conviction” and (subj.)
          “certainty,” for doxe men epetai pistis, Aristot. An., III, 3, p. 428a, 18-20. Parmen. contrasts pistis alethes
          (Fr. 1, 30 [Diels, I, 230, 12] “dependable truth” or “trust in what is real”) with broton doxai. In Resp. VI,
          505 e Plato speaks of pistis nominos (“firm belief”), and in Tim. 37bc he refers to doxai and pisteis, which
          are bebaioi and aletheis though they have to be differentiated, of course from nous and episteme. Similarly,
          Plato contrasts pistis orthe and episteme in Resp. X, 601e. In many cases, however, pistis is “firm
          conviction” without such distinctions. b. In acc. with the Greek feel for language pistis can denote not only
          the confidence one has but also the confidence one enjoys (cf. II, 233, 39 ff. doxa), i.e., ‘trustworthiness.’
          This is related to ‘reliability’ (175, 34; 176, 3), though there is a distinction. It is the same as the pass.
          pisteuesthai. Plutarch Pericles 33, 2 (I, 170a) etc. also n. 25. Stress is often laid on the fact that this pistis is
          a higher endowment than wealth. In this sense pistis is related to paradoxe (Polybius 1, 5, 5) and apodoxe
          (Polybius 1, 43, 4). c. Concretely pistis means the ‘guarantee’ which creates the possibility of trust, that
          which may be relied on, or the assurance of reliability, ‘assurance.’ The first use here is in the sphere of
          sacral law; pistis is often combined with orkos, Herodotus IX, 92; Plato Leg. III, 701c etc. and we find
          pisteis (pistin) didomai and lambanein or dechesthai. Pistis is the ‘oath of fidelity,’ ‘the pledge of
          faithfulness,’‘security.’This leads on the one side to the sense of ‘certainty,’ ‘trustworthiness,’ on the other
          to that of ‘means of proof,’ ‘proof.’ In particular pistis denotes the realiability of persons, ‘faithfulness.’
          It belongs especially to friendship (philia)” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament volume 6, pages
          5. Otto Michel makes the following comment regarding the word’s classical usage, he writes, “In classical
          literature pistis means the trust that a man may place in men or the gods (Hesiod, Works, 372; Sophocles
          OT, 1445), creditibility (Sophocles OC, 611), credit in business (Demosthones 36, 57), guarantee
          (Aeschylus Frag. 394), proof (Democ. 125), or something entrusted (IG 14, 2012 A 23)” (NIDNTT
          volume 1, page 594).
          6. Liddel and Scott list the following classical meanings for the word (page 1408):
          a. trust in others, faith
          b. persusaion of a thing, confidence, assurance
          c. in subjective sense, good faith, trustworthiness, honesty
          d. of things, credence, credit
          e. in a commercial sense, credit
          f. position of trust or trusteeship
          g. Theologically, faith, opposite of sight and knowledge
          h. that which gives confidence
          I. assurance, pledge of good faith, guarantee

          j. means of persuasion, argument
          k. that which is entrusted, a trust
          i. political protection or suzerainty
          m. in Egypt, safe-conduct, safeguard
          n. Pythagorus name for ten
          o. personified, equals Latin Fides
          7. In the Hellenistic period during the struggle with scepticism and atheism pistis acquired the sense of
          conviction as to the existence and activity of the gods. It took over the place of the older nomizo (deem,
          hold, believe that; cf. Plutarch De superstitione, 11; Pericles, 32; Amatorius, 13). The didactic element
          now emerged as the general and basic meaning. Pistis as faith in God stood for theoretical conviction. But
          stress was laid on the belief that life was constituted in accordance with this conviction. To that extent
          pistis could assume the practical features of the older eusebeia (piety; cf. Plutarch, De sera numinis
          vindicta, 3; De Pythiae Oraculis, 18). The tension between the visible and invisible, the physical and
          spiritual world likewise left behind it clear traces in discussion. The result was a materialized concept of
          faith which in the philosophically articulate doctrinal system of Neo-Platonism called for a definite,
          intellectualistic conviction, conditioned by tradition (Plotinus, Enneads, 1, 3, 3; 5, 8, 11; Porphyry,
          Ad Marcellam, 21 ff.).
          8. Pistis acquired a special significance in the writings of the Stoics in the sense of “reliability, faithfulness”
          (Epictectus Diss. II, 4, 1).
          9. The Stoic philosopher expressed his recognition of the divine ordering of the world, the centre of which
          was himself as an autonomous moral person (Epict. 2, 14, 11-13).
          10. Pistis reveals the essence of man (Epict. 2, 4, 1).
          11. Man’s fidelity to his moral destiny leads to fidelity towards others (Epict. 2, 4, 1-3; 2, 22).
          12. Pistis is thus solidity of character according to the Stoic philosopher and it is typical that pistos and pistis
          are used abstractly with no object needing to be supplied.
          13. Primarily then, pistis is an attitude of man to himself, not to others.
          14. In Stoicism, then, pistis has no religious significance in the sense of denoting man’s relation to deity or of
          having deity and its sway as objects.
          15. The attitude of pistis is, however, a religious attitude to the degree that in it man, as pistos, eleutheros and
          aidemon, actualizes his relationship to God.
          16. In the mystery religions faith denotes abandonment to the deity by following his instruction and teaching,
          and by putting oneself under his protection (Apul., Met. , 17, 25-28; P. Oxy., 11, 1380, 152).
          18. In the Corpus Hermeticum of syncretistic, Platonic revelations of the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., faith is a
          higher form of knowledge.
          19. It thus belongs to the realm of nous (reason, mind).
          20. In a mystical way man is led out of the realm of the Logos, until his spirit comes to rest in the knowledge of
          21. He thus participates in the divine (Corp. Herm., 9, 10; Ascl., 29).
          22. Besides Judaism and Christianity, the mystery religions stand out in their demand of faith in their divinities
          and the revelations and teaching delivered by them (e.g., the cult of Isis and Osiris).
          23. In this way salvation (which in the mystery religions was equated with divinization) was promised to the
          C. LXX Usage
          1. There are 5 Hebrew words for “faith”:
          a. Amen: “to lean on God”
          b. Batah: “to trust, to pick up your problems and slam them on the Lord” (Batah comes from a wrestling
          c. Hasah: “to take refuge, to hide like a bunny in the cleft of a rock” (the believer is to hide in the Rock,
          the Lord Jesus Christ)
          d. Yahal: “to trust in extreme pain”
          e. Qawa: “to be a strand of rope twisted into a great rope, and therefore made strong, trust” (Isa. 40:31)
          2. The noun pistis translates the following Hebrew terms in the LXX:
          a. `amun ( /wma) (noun), “faithfulness” (Dt. 32:20).
          b. `emunah (hnwma) (noun), “trust, faithfulness” (1 Chr. 9:22; Prv. 12:22); “truth” (Jer. 5:1, 3).
          c. `amanah (hnma) (noun), “agreement” (Neh. 9:38).

          d. `emesh (vma), “truth” (Prv. 16:6 [15:27] ); “truly, assuredly” (Jer. 28:9 [35:9], 32:41 [39:41] ).
          3. The noun pistis appears 57 times in the LXX, of which 33 are canonical.
          4. The LXX indicates that the Greek term pistis especially corresponds to the Hebrew term `emunah,
          “fidelity, faithfulness.”
          5. The related verb form `aman describes a faithful attitude toward another human being and especially used
          to denote a relationship with God (Gn. 15:6; Ex. 14:31; 2 Chr. 20:20).
          6. It also indicates a trust in God with the respect to His Word and His promises (Josh. 3:5; Psa. 106:12 [LXX
          105:12] ), and obedience to His commands (Psa. 119:66 [118:66] ).
          7. The noun `emunah occurs 48 times in the Hebrew Bible and is one of many meaning “firmness” or
          8. A distinction may be drawn between this noun and other related words, at least in contexts where the noun
          refers to a human quality of conduct.
          9. The noun `emunah refers to conduct in the sense of conscientiousness.
          10. A clear example is in 2 Kgs. 12:15, where it is recorded that workmen repairing the temple did so
          11. Jehoshaphat charges judges to work “with a conscientious and honest heart” (2 Chr. 19:9).
          12. This same quality leads to David and Samuel appointing certain individuals as gatekeepers, those who hold
          offices “on account of their conscientiousness” (1 Chr. 9:22).
          13. The text could read “offices of trust.”
          14. One must make a choice to live a life governed by doctrine (Ps. 119:30).
          15. Trustworthiness is a prerequisite to living a life pleasing to God (Prv. 12:22).
          16. One is rewarded by Yahweh according to one’s righteous and trustworthy behavior (1 Sam. 26:23).
          17. Moreover, the two qualities go hand in hand (Hab. 2:4).
          18. The noun `emunah is applied to the Lord to express His faithfulness, dependability (Dt. 32:4).
          19. It is frequently listed among the attributes of God (1 Sm. 26:23; Ps. 36:5; 40:10; Lm. 3:23).
          20. It describes His works (Ps. 33:4), and His words (Ps. 119:86; 143:1).
          21. `Emuna is also used to refer to those whose lives the Lord establishes.
          22. He expects to see faithfulness in them (Prv. 12:22; 2 Chr. 19:9).
          23. Indeed, such faithfulness or a life of faith is characteristic of those justified in God’s sight (Hab. 2:4).
          24. God’s Word of truth establishes man’s way of truth or faithfulness (Ps. 119:30).
          25. From this we can also see the concept of a duty being entrusted to a believer which becomes his trust
          (faithful responsibility, 1 Chr. 9:22; 2 Chr. 31:15, etc.) or office.
          26. `Emunah is not so much an abstract quality, “reliability,” but a way of acting which grows out of inner
          stability, “conscientiousness.”
          27. It emphasizes one’s own inner attitude and the conduct it produces and often conveys the idea of inner
          stability, integrity, conscientiousness, which is essential for any responsible service.
          28. It describes a living act of trust in the OT, and also the dimension of human existence in a historical
          D. Deissmann
          1. The work of the great Greek scholar Adolph Deissmann in his masterpiece Light from the Ancient East
          (page 309) has revealed that the NT writers such as Paul no doubt employed phrases that were common in
          everyday conversation during the period of history in which they lived.
          2. Deissmann makes the following insiteful comment regarding Paul’s use of pistis in the NT, he writes, “But
          there are other ways in which St. Paul made use of the forms and formulae of his age, as they presented
          themselves to him, principally, no doubt, in inscriptions. When in reviewing his past work he professes: ‘I
          have kept faith,’ and when, probably in the 2nd century A.D., the Ephesian M. Aurelius Agathopus, full of
          gratitude to Artemis, makes the same profession in an inscription in the theatre-’I have kept faith,’ both no
          doubt are drawing from the same source, from the stock formulae current in Asia Minor. On the other hand
          the metaphor employed by the apostle in the same passage, ‘I have fought the good fight…Henceforth there
          is laid up for me the crown of righteousness…,’ reminds one of phrases in an inscription relating to an
          athlete of the 2nd century A.D., also in the theatre at Ephesus:-’He fought three fights, and twice was
          crowned.’ No doubt St. Paul in his time read inscriptions like this.”
          3. He then provides the following footnote pertaining to this article, he writes, “The parallels show that pistis
          in the passage in St. Paul means ‘faith’ in the sense of ‘loyalty,’ not the ‘the faith’ in the sense of ‘creed.’
          Further passages are quoted by W. Jerusalem, Wiener Studien, I, p. 56.”
          E. NT Usage

          1. The noun pistis appears 244 times in the NT.
          2. Bultmann commenting on the word’s NT usage, writes, “As in Greek this can mean both ‘faithfulness’ and
          ‘trust,’ though it seldom used in the former sense. As ‘trust’ or ‘faith’ it occurs only in religious usage.
          Here it is mostly abs. Though it can be construed with eis with epi c. acc. (Hb. 6:1), with pros c. acc. (1 Th.
          1:8; Phlm. 5). With en too it has the same meaning and an obj. gen. can be used instead of prepositions”
          (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament volume 6, page 204).
          3. Walter Bauer gives the following 3-fold usage for the noun pistis during the classical, LXX and NT
          periods (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd
          Edition, Revised and Augmented by F.W. Gingrich and Frederick Danker, pages 662-664):
          a. that which causes trust and faith-faithfulness, reliability, solemn promise, oath, proof, pledge.
          b. trust, confidence, faith in the active sense=believing-faith, trust, confidence in God.
          c. that which is believed, body of faith or belief, doctrine.
          4. Louw and Nida give the following 6-fold usage of pistis in the NT (Greek-English Lexicon of the New
          Testament Based on Semantic Domains volume 2):
          a. that which is completely believable – ‘what can be fully believed, that which is worthy of belief,
          believable evidence, proof’ (page 371).
          b. to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance – ‘to believe in, to have confidence in, to have
          faith in, to trust, faith, trust’ (pages 376-377).
          c. the state of being someone in whom complete confidence can be placed – ‘trustworthiness,
          dependability, faithfulness’ (page 377).
          d. Christian faith (page 379).
          e. the content of what Christians believe – ‘the faith, beliefs, doctrine’ (page 379).
          f. promise or pledge of faithfulness and loyalty – ‘promise, pledge to be faithful’ (page 421).
          5. There are 3 basic meanings for pistis in the NT.
          6. There is 1st the active usage meaning “faith.”
          7. The word has 3 connotiations under this usage:
          a. saving faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
          b. 3 stages of the faith rest drill (Rm. 4:20; Heb. 4:3).
          c. faith perception as a part of spiritual metabolism.
          8. There is also a passive usage meaning “that which is believed, the body of faith, doctrine” (Gal. 1:23; 2 Pt.
          1:5; 1 Tm. 1:19; 4:1, 6; 6:10; 2 Tm. 2:18; 4:7; Hb. 11).
          9. Lastly, the noun pistis is used as an attribute meaning “faithfulness, reliability” (Gal. 3:22; Titus 2:10; 2
          Th. 1:4).
          10. To express the newness and complete otherness of the relation to God which is implied by pistis as a
          turning and constant reference to God’s saving act, Paul connects the blessing of salvation strictly,
          consistently and exclusively to pistis.
          11. Like Judaism, he describes this blessing as dikaiosune.
          12. But this leads Paul to make a statement, which is paradoxial for Judaism, namely, that dikaiosune is given
          to pistis, that it is not, therefore, ascribed to man on the basis of works.
          13. Man can stand before God only in virtue of his pistis and not in virtue of his works.
          14. The whole of Galatians combats the possible misunderstanding that pistis has to be supplemented by the
          accomplishment of certain works of the Law.
          15. It is thus made perfectly plain that pistis is man’s absolute committal to God, a committal in which man
          cannot make any resolutions of his own~which would be in the sphere of erga~but which can only be
          committal to God’s grace, an answer to God’s act.
          16. Equally plain, however, is the fact that this committal is a movement of the will; it is indeed the radical
          decision of the will in which man delivers himself up.
          17. It is the act in which men really is, whereas in erga he always stands alongside that which he accomplishes.
          18. In Paul the character of pistis as act is expressed on the one side by the fact that he understands pistis as
          hupakoe and on the other quite unintentionally by the fact that, unlike Augustine, he never describes faith
          as inspired.
          19. Though the Spirit is given the believer, pistis is not a gift of the Spirit.
          20. Faith is the manner of life of the man who is crucified with Christ, who can no longer live as an I, who lives
          in Christ (Gal. 2:19).

          21. If one does not understand the paradox that pistis as a movement of the will is the negation of the will
          itself, the antithesis of pistis and erga nomou will easily be misunderstood, as though pistis were another
          work of achievement.
          22. On this view the Pauline rejection of works would be taken to apply only to the works of the Mosaic Law,
          while faith as an act of obedience would always entail a certain measure of activity on man’s part.
          23. In truth, however, more than a measure of activity is presupposed in faith.
          24. Faith is act in the supreme sense.
          25. As such it is the opposite of every work or achievement, since the act of faith consists in the negation of all
          the work which establishes man’s existence.
          26. That Paul rejects erga, not in a limited, but in a fundamental sense, is shown by the fact that the antithesis
          of pistis and erga is accompanied by the antithesis of charis and erga.
          27. Paul deliberately opposes charis to and ergazesthai which can claim a misthos.
          28. He also fashions the antithesis kata charin~kata opheilema (R. 4:4f.).
          29. Moreover, it is clear that when Paul demands of the believer a fulfilling of the Law in a new sense, namely,
          in agape (R. 13:8-10; Gl. 5:14), he rejects the erga nomou, not in respect of their content (as the Law of
          Moses), but in respect of the manner of their fulfillment.
          30. Finally, Paul makes it quite clear why he rejects works.
          31. The way of erga nomou is a false way of salvation because man seeks to base upon it his kauchema, his
          claim before God.
          32. Since the Jewish righteousness of works and pagan wisdom are both affected by the bringing to nothing of
          human boasting, it is evident that in rejecting erga Paul is rejecting a specific and indeed a characteristic
          attitude~the attitude of human self-assurance before God, or the attempt to attain it.
          33. Thus pistis as genuine hupakoe, as the basic attitude made possible by God’s gracious act in Christ, stands
          opposed not only to the specifically Jewish attitude but also to the specifically pagan attitude of man, i.e., to
          the attitude of natural man generally, who fancies that he can stand before God in his own strength!
          34. It is clear that as this attitude pistis is not something which man can accomplish incidentally or along with
          other things.
          35. It is the basic attitude of life, which determines all detailed conduct.
          36. Also clear is the fact that to come to believe and to be a believer are very closely related, since the
          abandonment of human certainty in the act of believing must be continued in the form of a steady
          overpowering of the natural man.
          37. To the degree that pistis as genuine hupakoe is the surrender of the natural man, it is the eschatological
          attitude of man which is made possible by God’s eschatological act.
          38. It is the attitude of the new man.
          39. This eschatological character of pistis is marked by the fact that en pistei is parallel to en kurio and en
          40. These expressions denote eschatological existence.
          41. He who is en Christo is a new creature (2 Co. 5:17).
          42. The period of charis has brought to an end the age of nomos (R. 6:14).
          43. The coming of pistis is the eschatological time (Gl. 3:23).
          44. Paul did not develop the meaning of pistis in such express antithesis to the Gnostic concept as he did to the
          45. Nevertheless, his statements are plain enough.
          46. As an eschatological atittude, pistis is not to be misunderstood as though it were itself eschatological
          47. It is not, as in Philo, a diathesis of the soul.
          48. It is not the athlon, the reward of conflict.
          49. The man who is justified in faith (Phil. 3:9) is constantly engaged in the struggle for perfection, in pursuit
          of the brebaion (Phil. 3:12-14).
          50. There is not actualised in pistis, as in the gnosis of the Gnostics, the definitiveness of eschatological being.
          51. Faith does not escape the provisional nature of historical being.
          52. It actualizes eschatological being in temporality.
          53. For, as it is always referred back to what God has done in Christ (R. 10:9), it is also orientated to the future,
          to what God will do (R. 6:8: pisteuomen hoti kai suzesomen auto).
          54. The relation to past and future forms a unity (1 Th. 4:14), for God’s act in the past is an eschatological act
          which controls the whole future.
          55. Related to the future is the awareness of a new existence which is given along with faith (2 Co. 4:13 f. R. 6:8).
          56. Thus elpis stands alongside pistis.
          57. And though pistis as the reference to God’s grace can never be exhausted even in the eschatological
          consummation, though it will “abide” (1 Co. 3:13), nevertheless the present life in pistis is a provisional
          one inasmuch as it does not include sight: dia pisteos gar peripatoumen, ou dia eidous (2 Co. 5:7).
          58. Our soteria is not made a disposable possession by pistis.
          59. It has become a sure hope (R. 8:24f.; Gl. 5:5).
          60. If pistis as the constitution of Christian life means No longer in relation to Judaism, it means Not yet in
          relation to Gnosticism.
          61. Christian being in pistis is thus a paradoxical eschatological being in historical existence.
          62. It is being in both the No longer and the Not yet.
          63. This is most clearly depicted in Phil. 3:12-14.
          64. No longer, for the resolve of faith has abandoned the past of self-confidence and self-boasting (Phil. 3:4-8).
          65. But this resolve, since it leads under God’s charis and not out of historical existence, must be sustained by
          constant renewal.
          66. The forgotten past is always present in the sense of being overcame.
          67. To that degree recollection (not remorse) is part of faith, whose forgetting is not a putting out of mind but a
          no longer being entangled.
          68. Not yet, to the degree that the surrender of the old being is a surrender of the self-assurance which thinks it
          can control its own existence, to the degree, then, that this surrender rules out any receiving in exchange of
          a disposable new possession.
          69. There is no new disposable possession in place of an old one.
          70. The change from Then to Now implies the renunciation of all desire to possess and a radical committal to
          the grace of God.
          71. Not yet in relation to the man concerning whom no kateilephenai can be asserted in his historical existence,
          but Already to the degree that katalemphthenai hupo Christou Iesou applies to him.

      • Stan says:

        The Good Samaritan would be a good person to ask. Or what about the tax collector who pounded his chest and confessed “Lord forgive me a sinner”. Who went away justified? The Samaritan was like a moslem, to the current crop of cousins to the Pharisees. Yet he was held up by Jesus as an example of one who loved God as evidence of his love for his neighbor. Jesus deliberately used someone who had a gross misunderstanding of God to expose the Pharisees lack of knowledge. Even with this as hindsight, Pharisees are still making the same mistake today. What is interesting to me is that theologians often will confuse the children that Jesus says the kingdom is for. I suppose it is human nature to be tribal. Even the disciples wanted to stop those who weren’t following Jesus that were casting out demons in Jesus’ name. he said don’t stop them even though they had no theological/scriptural understanding of who He was. They just knew His name and they could cast out demons with it. This ridiculous discussion of whether a man of God who gave up wealth and fame to serve the poorest of the poor had the right theology is terribly misplaced. Who are you to judge the servant of another?

  2. Sandy Rather says:

    This could explain why a recent biography I read of Schweitzer left me spiritually empty. Nothing in the narratives…or his quoted words…or reported views proclaimed Jesus and the power of the gospel. I thought it was the writer, but now it seems it was not.

    I wonder if others have observed the same thing???

    • jmichaelrios says:

      I’m not sure what others have written. Many people, I expect, were overawed by his acts of service toward humanity. But you’re right that there’s definitely something missing.


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