International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
fath'-fool, fath'-fool-nes: 1. Faithfulness of God in the Old Testament
2. Faithfulness of God in the New Testament
Faithfulness is a quality or attribute applied in the Scripture to both God and man. This article is limited to the consideration of the Scripture teaching concerning the meaning of faithfulness in its application to God.
Faithfulness is one of the characteristics of God's ethical nature. It denotes the firmness or constancy of God in His relations with men, especially with His people. It is, accordingly, one aspect of God's truth and of His unchangeableness. God is true not only because He is really God in contrast to all that is not God, and because He realizes the idea of Godhead, but also because He is constant or faithful in keeping His promises, and therefore is worthy of trust (see TRUTH). God, likewise, is unchangeable in His ethical nature. This unchangeableness the Scripture often connects with God's goodness and mercy, and also with His constancy in reference to His covenant promises, and this is what the Old Testament means by the Faithfulness of God (see UNCHANGEABLENESS).
1. Faithfulfulness of God in the Old Testament:
In the Old Testament this attribute is ascribed to God in passages where the Hebrew words denoting faithfulness do not occur. It is implied in the covenant name Yahweh as unfolded in Exodus 3:13-15, which not only expresses God's self-existence and unchangeableness, but, as the context indicates, puts God's immutability in special relation to His gracious promises, thus denoting God's unchangeable faithfulness which is emphasized in the Old Testament to awaken trust in God (Deuteronomy 7:9 Psalm 36:5 (Hebrew 6); Isaiah 11:5 Hosea 12:6, 9). (For fuller remarks on the name Yahweh in Exodus 3:13-15, see article UNCHANGEABLENESS.) It is, moreover, God's faithfulness as well as His immutability which is implied in those passages where God is called a rock, as being the secure object of religious trust (Deuteronomy 32:4, 15 Psalm 18:2 (Hebrew 3); 42:9 (Hebrew 10); Isaiah 17:10, etc.). This same attribute is also implied where God reveals Himself to Moses and to Israel as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their fathers' God (Exodus 3:6, 15, 16). The truth concerning God here taught is not simply that He stood in a gracious relation to the Patriarchs, but that He is faithful to His gracious promise to their fathers, and that what He was to them He will continue to be to Moses and to Israel. This is the fundamental idea in the Old Testament concerning the faithfulness of God.
This can be seen also from the Hebrew words which are used to express this quality of God's nature and activity. These words are ne'eman, the Niphal participle of the verb 'aman used as an adjective-"faithful"-and the nouns 'emeth and 'emunah-"faithfulness." The verbal stem 'aman means "to be secure or firm." In the Qal it denotes the firmness of that which supports something, being used in the participle of a nurse who carries a child (Numbers 11:12 2 Samuel 4:4 Isaiah 49:23). In the Niphal it denotes the firmness of that which is supported, for example, a child which is carried (Isaiah 60:4); a well-founded house (1 Samuel 2:35; 1 Samuel 25:28); a wall which firmly holds a nail (Isaiah 22:23, 15); a kingdom firmly established (2 Samuel 7:16); persons secure in political station (Isaiah 7:9); a heart which is faithful (Nehemiah 9:8). Hence, in the Niphal the verb comes to have the meaning of being true in the sense of the agreement of words and assertions with reality; for example, of words and revelations (Genesis 42:20 Hosea 5:9); and of persons (Isaiah 8:2 Jeremiah 42:5). It has also the meaning of being faithful, being applied to men in Numbers 12:7 Psalm 101:6 Nehemiah 13:13, etc. In this sense the term is applied to the covenant-keeping Yahweh to express the truth that He is firm or constant, that is, faithful in regard to His covenant promises, and will surely fulfill them (Deuteronomy 7:9 Isaiah 49:7; and possibly Hosea 11:12 (Hebrew 12:1)).
A similar use is made of the nouns 'emeth and 'emunah. Apart from the instances where 'emeth denotes the idea of truth or the correspondence of words and ideas with reality, and the instances where it denotes the agreement of acts and words with the inner disposition, that is, sincerity, it is also used to denote the idea of faithfulness as above defined. As regards the noun 'emunah, apart from a few passages where it is doubtful whether it means truth or faithfulness, it usually denotes the latter idea. Both these nouns, then, are used to signify the idea of faithfulness, that is, constancy or firmness, especially in the fulfillment of all obligations. In this sense these words are not only applied to men, but also to God to express the idea that He is always faithful to His covenant promises. It is this attribute of God which the Psalmist declares (Psalm 40:10 (Hebrew 11)), and the greatness of which he affirms by saying that God's faithfulness reacheth to the clouds (Psalm 36:5 (Hebrew 6)). It is this which he makes the object of praise (Psalm 89:1, 2 (Hebrew 2, 3); Psalm 92:2 (Hebrew 3)); and which he says should be praised and reverenced by all men (Psalm 89:5, 8 (Hebrew 6, 9)). And even this faithfulness is itself characterized by constancy, if we may so speak, for the Psalmist says that it endures to all generations (Psalm 100:5). Being thus a characteristic of God, it also characterizes His salvation, and becomes the basis of confidence that God will hear prayer (Psalm 143:1). It thus becomes the security of the religious man (Psalm 91:4); and the source of God's help to His people (Psalm 31:5 (Hebrew 6)). Accordingly in the teaching of prophecy, the salvation of the covenant people rests upon no claim or merit of their own, but solely upon Yahweh's mercy, grace and faithfulness. When Israel incurred God's judgments, it might have appeared as if His promise was to fail, but, so far from this being true, as Yahweh, He is faithful to His word of promise which stands forever (Isaiah 40:8). Even from eternity His counsels are characterized by faithfulness and truth (Isaiah 25:1); and this is not because of Israel's faithfulness, but it is for His own sake that Yahweh blotteth out their transgressions (Isaiah 43:22-25 Micah 7:18-20). It is, moreover, this same characteristic of Yahweh which is asserted in many cases where the Hebrew words 'emeth and 'emunah are translated by the word "truth" in the King James Version. In Exodus 34:6 it is God's faithfulness ('emeth) which is referred to, since it evidently signifies His constancy from generation to generation; and in Deuteronomy 32:4 it is also God's faithfulness ('emunah) which is mentioned, since it is contrasted with the faithlessness of Israel. The same is true of 'emeth in Micah 7:20 Psalm 31:5 (Hebrew 6)); 91:04:00; 146:06:00. This is also true of the numerous instances where God's mercy and truth ('emeth) are combined, His mercy being the source of His gracious promises, and His truth the faithfulness with which He certainly fulfills them (Psalm 25:10; Psalm 57:3 (Hebrew 4); 61:7 (Hebrew 8); 85:10 (Hebrew 11); 86:15). And since the covenant-keeping Yahweh is faithful, faithfulness comes also to be a characteristic of the New Covenant which is everlasting (Psalm 89:28 (Hebrew 29)); compare also for a similar thought, Isaiah 54:8; Jeremiah 31:35; Hosea 2:19; Ezekiel 16:60.
It is in this connection, moreover, that God's faithfulness is closely related to His righteousness in the Old Testament. In the second half of the prophecy of Isaiah and in many of the psalms, righteousness is ascribed to God because He comes to help and save His people. Thus righteousness as a quality parallel with grace, mercy and faithfulness is ascribed to God (Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 45:13, 19, 21; Isaiah 63:1). It appears in these places to widen out from its exclusively judicial or forensic association and to become a quality of God as Saviour of His people. Accordingly this attribute of God is appealed to in the Psalms as the basis of hope for salvation and deliverance (Psalm 31:1 (Hebrew 2); 35:24:00; 71:02:00; 143:11). Hence, this attribute is associated with God's mercy and grace (Psalm 36:5 (Hebrew 6); 36:9 (Hebrew 10); 89:14 (Hebrew 15)); also with His faithfulness (Zechariah 8:8 Psalm 36:6 (Hebrew 7)); Psalm 40:10 (Hebrew 11); 88:11, 12 (Hebrew 12, 13); 89:14 (Hebrew 15); 96:13:00; 119:137, 142; 143:1). Accordingly the Old Testament conception of the righteousness of God has been practically identified with His covenant faithfulness, by such writers as Kautzsch, Riehm and Smend, Ritschl's definition of it being very much the same. Moreover, Ritschl, following Diestel, denied that the idea of distributive and retributive justice is ascribed to God in the Old Testament. In regard to this latter point, it should be remarked in passing that this denial that the judicial or forensic idea of righteousness is ascribed to God in the Old Testament breaks down, not only in view of the fact that the Old Testament does ascribe this attribute to God in many ways, but also in view of the fact that in a number of passages the idea of retribution is specifically referred to the righteousness of God (see RIGHTEOUSNESS; compare against Diestel and Ritschl, Dalman, Die richterliche Gerechtigkeit im Alten Testament).
That which concerns us, however, in regard to this close relation between righteousness and faithfulness is to observe that this should not be pressed to the extent of the identification of righteousness with covenant faithfulness in these passages in the Psalms and the second half of Isaiah. The idea seems to be that Israel has sinned and has no claim upon Yahweh, finding her only hope of deliverance in His mercy and faithfulness. But this very fact that Yahweh is merciful and faithful becomes, as it were, Israel's claim, or rather the ground of Israel's hope of deliverance from her enemies. Hence, in the recognition of this claim of His people, God is said to be righteous in manifesting His mercy and faithfulness, so that His righteousness, no less than His mercy and faithfulness, becomes the ground of His people's hope. Righteousness is thus closely related in these cases to faithfulness, but it is not identified with it, nor has it in all cases lost entirely its forensic tone. This seems to be, in general, the meaning of righteousness in the Psalms and the second half of Isaiah, with which may also be compared Micah 6:9 Zechariah 8:8.
The emphasis which this attribute of God has in the Old Testament is determined by the fact that throughout the whole of the Old Testament the covenant relation of Yahweh to His people is founded solely in God's grace, and not on any merit of theirs. If this covenant relation had been based on any claim of Israel, faithfulness on God's part might have been taken for granted. But since Yahweh's covenant relation with Israel and His promises of salvation spring solely from, and depend wholly upon, the grace of God, that which gave firm assurance that the past experience of God's grace would continue in the future was this immutable faithfulness of Yahweh. By it the experience of the fathers was given a religious value for Israel from generation to generation. And even as the faithfulness of God bridged over the past and the present, so also it constituted the connecting link between the present and the future, becoming thus the firm basis of Israel's hope; compare Psalm 89 which sets forth the faithfulness of God in its greatness, its firmness as the basis of the covenant and the ground it affords of hope for future help from Yahweh, and for hope that His covenant shall endure forever. When God's people departed from Him all the more emphasis was put upon His faithfulness, so that the only hope of His wayward people lay not only in His grace and mercy but also in His faithfulness, which stands in marked contrast with the faithlessness and inconstancy of His people. This is probably the meaning of the difficult verse Hosea 11:12 (Hebrew 12:1).
2. Faithfulness of God in the New Testament:
In the New Testament teaching concerning the faithfulness of God the same idea of faithfulness to His gracious promises is emphasized and held up as the object of a confident trust in God. This idea is usually expressed by the adjective pistos, and once by the noun pistis, which more frequently has the active sense of faith or trust.
An attempt has been made by Wendt (SK, 1883, 511; Teaching of Jesus, English translation, I, 259) to interpret the words aletheia and alethes in many instances, especially in the Johannine writings, as denoting faithfulness and rectitude, after the analogy of the Septuagint rendering eleos kai aletheia for the Hebrew phrase "mercy and truth," in which truth is equivalent to faithfulness. But the most that could be inferred from the fact that the Septuagint uses the word aletheia to translate the Hebrew word 'emeth, and in about one-half the cases where 'emunah occurs, would be that those Greek words might have been prepared for such a use in the New Testament. But while it is true that there is one usage of these words in John's writings in an ethical sense apparently based on the Old Testament use of 'emeth and 'emunah, the Greek words do not have this meaning when employed to denote a characteristic of God. Neither is the adjective alethinos so used.
In the Epistles of Paul the word aletheia occurs quite frequently to denote the truth revealed by God to man through reason and conscience, and to denote the doctrinal content of the gospel. In two passages, however, the words alethes and aletheia seem to signify the faithfulness of God (Romans 3:4, 7; Romans 15:8). In the former passage Paul is contrasting the faithfulness of God with the faithlessness of men, the word alethes, 3:4, and aletheia, 3:7, apparently denoting the same Divine characteristic as the word pistis, 3:3. In the latter passage (Romans 15:8), the vindication of God's covenant faithfulness, through the realization of His promises to the fathers, is declared to have been the purpose of the ministry of Jesus Christ to the Jews.
This faithfulness of God to His covenant promises is frequently emphasized by Paul, the words he employs being the noun pistis (once) and the adjective: pistos. The noun pistis is used once by Paul in this sense (Romans 3:3). In this place Paul is arguing that the unbelief of the Jews cannot make void God's faithfulness. Both Jew and Gentile, the apostle had said, are on the same footing as regards justification. Nevertheless the Jews had one great advantage in that they were the people to whom the revelation of God's gracious promises had been committed. These promises will certainly be fulfilled, notwithstanding the fact that some of the Jews were unfaithful, because the fulfillment of these promises depends not on human conduct but on the faithfulness of God, which cannot be made void by human faithlessness and unbelief. And to the supposition that man's faithlessness could make of none effect God's faithfulness, Paul replies `let God be faithful (alethes) and every man a liar' (Romans 3:4), by which Paul means to say that in the fulfillment of God's promises, in spite of the fact that men are faithless, the faithfulness of God will be abundantly vindicated, even though thereby every man should be proven untrue and faithless. And not only so, but human faithlessness will give an opportunity for a manifestation of the faithfulness (aletheia) of God, abounding to His glory (Romans 3:7). God's faithfulness here is His unchangeable constancy and fidelity to His covenant promises; and it is this fidelity to His promises, or the fact that God's gracious gifts and election are without any change of mind on His part, which gave to Paul the assurance that all Israel should finally be saved (Romans 11:25-29). Moreover this covenant faithfulness of God is grounded in His very nature, so that Paul's hope of eternal life rests on the fact that God who cannot lie promised it before the world began (Titus 1:2); and the certainty that God will abide faithful notwithstanding human faithlessness rests on the fact that God cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). It is because God is faithful that His promises in Christ are yea and amen (2 Corinthians 1:18, 20). This attribute of God, moreover, is the basis of Paul's confident assurance that God will preserve the Christian in temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13); and establish him and preserve him from evil (2 Thessalonians 3:3). And since God is faithful and His gracious promises trustworthy, this characteristic attaches to the "faithful sayings" in the Pastoral Epistles which sum up the gospel, making them worthy of trust and acceptance (1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Timothy 4:9 Titus 3:8).
This faithfulness of God in the sense of fidelity to His promises is set forth as the object of sure trust and hope by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was the basis of Sarah's faith that she would bear a child when she was past age (Hebrews 11:11); and it is because God is faithful to His promise in Christ that we can draw nigh to Him with full assurance of faith, holding fast without wavering the profession of hope (Hebrews 10:23).
John also ascribes this attribute to God. Since one of the most precious of God's promises through Christ is the pardon of sin through the "blood of Jesus Christ," John says that God's faithfulness, as well as His righteousness, is manifested in the forgiveness of sin (1 John 1:9).
The faithfulness of God is viewed from a slightly different point by Peter when he tells his readers that those who suffer as Christians and in accordance with God's will should "commit their soul's in well-doing unto a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19). The quality of faithfulness, which in the Scripture is more frequently ascribed to God in His relation to man as gracious Saviour, and as the ground of hope in His gracious promises, is here applied by Peter to God in His relation to man as his Creator, and is made the ground of comfort under persecution and suffering. The omission of the article before the words "faithful Creator" makes emphatic that this is a characteristic of God as Creator, and the position of the words in the sentence throws great emphasis on this attribute of God as the basis of comfort under suffering. It is as if Peter would say to suffering Christians, "You suffer not by chance but in accordance with God's will; He, the almighty Creator, made you, and since your suffering is in accordance with His will, you ought to trust yourselves to Him who as your Creator is faithful." It is, of course, Christians who are to derive this comfort, but the faithfulness of God is extended here to cover all His relations to His people, and to pledge all His attributes in their behalf.
This attribute is also ascribed to Christ in the New Testament. Where Jesus is called a faithful high priest, the idea expressed is His fidelity to His obligations to God and to His saving work (Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 3:2, 6). But when in the Book of Revelation Jesus Christ is called the "faithful witness" or absolutely the "Faithful and True," it is clear that the quality of faithfulness, in the most absolute sense in which it is characteristic of God in contrast with human changeableness, is ascribed to Christ (Revelation 1:5; Revelation 3:14; Revelation 19:11). This is especially clear in the last-named passage. The heavens themselves open to disclose the glorified Christ, and He appears not only as a victorious warrior whose name is faithful and true, but also as the one in whom these attributes have their highest realization, and of whom they are so characteristic as to become the name of the exalted Lord. This clearly implies the Deity of Jesus.
In summing up the Scripture teaching concerning God's faithfulness, three things are noteworthy. In the first place, this characteristic of God is usually connected with His gracious promises of salvation, and is one of those attributes which make God the firm and secure object of religious trust. As is the case with all the Scripture teaching concerning God, it is the religious value of His faithfulness which is made prominent. In the second place, the so-called moral attributes, of which this is one, are essential in order to constitute God the object of religion, along with the so-called incommunicable attributes such as Omnipotence, Omnipresence and Unchangeableness. Take away either class of attributes from God, and He ceases to be God, the object of religious veneration and trust. And in the third place, while these moral attributes, to which faithfulness belongs, have been called "communicable," to distinguish them from the "incommunicable" attributes which distinguish God from all that is finite, it should never be forgotten that, according to the Scripture, God is faithful in such an absolute sense as to contrast Him with men who are faithful only in a relative sense, and who appear as changeable and faithless in comparison with the faithfulness of God.
SeeRIGHTEOUSNESS; TRUTH; UNCHANGEABLENESS.
Besides the Commentaries on the appropriate passages, see Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament, English translation, 95, 112 505: Dillmann, Handbuch der alttest. Theol., 268-76, 269-70; Schlatter, Der Glaube im New Testament, 21-22, 259-60. In the works on New Testament theology this subject is treated under the sections on the truthfulness of God.
On the relation of God's truth and faithfulness, see Wendt, Der Gebrauch der Worter, und im New Testament, SK, 1883, 511; Stanton, article "Truth," in HDB, IV, 816; and the above-mentioned work of Schlatter. On the relation of the faithfulness to the righteousness of God, see Diestel, "Die Idee der Gerechtigkeit vorzuglich im Altes Testament," Jahrbucher fur deutsche Theologie, 1860, 173; Kautzsch, Ueber die Derivate des Stammes im Altes Testament Sprachgebrauch; Riehm, Altes Testament Theol., 271; Smend, Alttest. Religionsgeschichte, 363; Ritschl, Justification and Reconciliation; Dalman, Die richterliche Gerechtigkeit im Altes Testament; and the above-mentioned Old Testament Theologies of Dillmann and Oehler.
Gaspar Wistar Hodge