The definition of “faith”

Faith is choosing to believe a particular truth claim as fact, even though the supporting evidence for that claim is weak to non-existent.—

Would anyone ask you to believe a truth claim, by faith, if the evidence for that claim is overwhelming?  I don’t think so.  Claims with overwhelming or even just strong evidence do not require “faith”.

Therefore, in my opinion, the fact that Christianity asks you to believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior “by faith” is an admission that the evidence for the core claims of Christianity are weak to non-existent.

Update:  12/16/2016

Here is a definition of “faith” used on the atheist blog, “Debunking Christianity”.

—Assigning a degree of certainty to a claim beyond what the evidence suggests is reasonable.—

I like this definition. Of course, Christians will want to argue that faith IS reasonable. They will also come back and say that the existence of a Creator God increases the “reasonableness” of a (biblical) claim. My definition is only based on the evidence for the claim itself not on what is “reasonable” in an undefined sense of that word.

How about this revision of my original definition:

—Faith is choosing to believe a particular truth claim when the evidence for that claim is not strong enough for most rational people to believe it on its own merit.—

I have debated numerous Christians who when confronted with the weak evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus will respond with: “Jesus didn’t make the evidence strong because he wants you to believe in him by faith.”



17 thoughts on “The definition of “faith”

  1. I am not sure your definition of Faith is necessarily correct. It might just be a synonym for belief or trust.
    “I trust / believe / have faith that the world is round.”
    “I have faith that I could grow a cacao tree successfully in Florida.” The evidence is strong for this. I have experience growing plants and read that they can be grown there.
    If the apostles like Thomas practically knew Jesus arose from seeing and touching him for 40 days, it would still be called faith. Jesus tells Thomas something like: “You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and believe.”

    Anyway, I enjoy reading your blog because you take a realistic POV.
    Recently I have been reviewing and reading the Christian writings up to 100 AD outside the Bible to understand the Christian experience and mentality from that time. I invite you to see my list:

    Outside of maybe two epistles, the Biblical NT (minus Revelation), and the Didache, the rest of the 1st c. Christian writings are very apocalyptic, visionary, or gnostic-like. Besides 1 Clement, Preaching of Peter, Didache, Epistle of Barnabas… the Biblical epistles… maybe the 4 gospels and Acts, a few gospel fragments like Fayyum and Egerton,… everything is apocalyptic, visionary, or seemingly gnostic. Even the gospels have a major apocalyptic and “hidden” aspect, like Jesus revealing the meaning of parables just to the apostles. And 1 Clement retells the story about the magical pagan phoenix as if it’s factual, I haven’t reviewed E.Barnabas yet, and we don’t have the full text of the Preaching of Peter.

    There is a very common trend among modern skeptical Bible scholars like Bart Ehrman, Dominic Crossan, Bruce Mack to claim that Jesus and/or the original 11 apostles were like modern rational “enlightened” thinkers (Mack’s idea) or didn’t think Jesus was god or the Messiah (Crossan’s and Ehrman’s idea) and that these beliefs were all made up later by the kind of ex-“pagans” who ran the establishment Catholic Church under Constantine and later. I think it’s more likely the opposite, and that when Christianity started in the 1st century it was much more apocalyptic and visionary than it was in Constantine’s time. And since these modern skeptics like Ehrman don’t actually believe the supernatural claims, they imagine that the “original” Christianity was “rational” “enlightenment” thought. They are doing the same thing that the Protestants have, superimposing their own modern, more naturalistic outlook onto the 1st c. Christians and then concluding that the original Christians must have thought this way themselves.

    Exhibit #1: In the synoptic Olivet Discourse, it sounds like maybe Jesus says that the End Times will come in the apostles’ natural lifespans (the issue is debated). But in John 21, a later writing, it says that there had been a misunderstanding and actually Jesus never clearly stated that he would show up in the apostle John’s lifetime.

    Exhibit #2: In Epistles to the Corinthians, Paul that when Christians in Corinth gather, everyone has a tongue or a vision or some other “gift”, but that if strangers watch them speaking in tongues simultaneously, they will sound like “maniacs”. Does that sound like a gathering of rationalistic philosophers to you, Gary?

    Exhibit #3: The Christian writings including the NT and Paui’s epistles have a very heavy scattering of direct and indirect references to Jesus being the unique Son of God in the Trinity. In arguing away these references, the modern skeptic academics are doing the kind of thing that they accuse the later “establishment” Christians of doing: revisionism, but in the opposite direction. Rather than the so called “Constantinian” Christians adding in these apocalyptic supernatural references, those modern “skeptics” are editing them out of their presentation of the “original” Christianity.


    1. Out of the 1st c. writings, the Didache is the least supernatural and visionary, and even there, it ends in apocalyptic prophecy, talks about wandering “prophets” as authorities for the church in the 1st c. AD,, and has plenty of references to Jesus as “Lord” or Trinitarian “Son of God”.
      So I don’t agree with Bruce Mack’s conclusion that the Didache proves the Christians in the 1st c. to be rationalistic “enlightened” thinkers. It’s the opposite, Gary. I think that the Didache is more like a rationalistic face on a movement with more “hidden” teachings. ie. It’s true that the Didache doesn’t hash out Jesus’ virgin birth or status as Logos like John’s gospel and the synoptics do. But it’s implicit enough in Didache for me to see that this is what the actual teachings were. It’s like Jesus would teach a parable to the public, but his disciples learned from him the true inner meaning. Same thing I think about the Didache.

      Bruce Mack, Crossan, and Ehrman are on the “outside” of the early Christianity. To give an analogy, they imagine that Christianity is just the plain public face of the parables, and they wall themselves off from the supernatural inner meaning of the parables (although Crossan does a good job understanding the social justice aspect of Christianity’s moral teachings).


        1. Gary,
          I think Luther had the right idea about what the early Christians thought about the Eucharist. “What Church father”, he asked rhetorically, took the words of Institution to mean “this is a symbol of my body”, or “this is not my body”? Jesus’ body can go through walls, so it can go into bread, if He wants it to.

          Calvin’s response was that No, this is impossible, Jesus’ cannot body cannot be in bread, as a human body has to be within defined limits and can’t go into bread. Calvin made a rationalist critique and then he pushed the verses to always be read symbolically whenever they needed to fit his idea.

          But Luther was right…. That was just Calvin’s own new naturalistic reading in the modern era, not something that you could actually find clearly stated in any 1st c. writings.

          Same thing I see going on with Ehrman, Crossan, and others. They don’t believe Jesus had a virgin birth, so they want to say that this was never the “original” story anyway. So since there is no virgin birth story in Mark, for example, they see the absence as other strong proof that it wasn’t part of the “original” story. Same thing with Trinitarianism, Messiahship, etc.

          My own best guess is that Mark is actually a reworking of Matt. and Luke, and Mark is typically silent where those two disagree, so it’s not such strong evidence. Rather, the virgin birth story, was probably one of the more inner teachings, just like Trinitarianism and the objective presence in the food ritual.


  2. “—Assigning a degree of certainty to a claim beyond what the evidence suggests is reasonable.”
    “—Faith is choosing to believe a particular truth claim when the evidence for that claim is not strong enough for most rational people to believe it on its own merit.”


    “My student has always gotten As on his tests in my class. I have faith he will do well on the final exam.”
    My faith in the student’s success is reasonable.


  3. “Would anyone ask you to believe a truth claim, by faith, if the evidence for that claim is overwhelming?”
    Yes. It happens.

    The evidence can be overwhelming that I got sick at Burger King, I could have it on tape at home and my 50 friends can say it did happen and I can have an official apology from Burger King. I can have another friend who was not there and just loves Burger King, and will never believe anyone could ever get sick from it. I don’t have the video with me. The evidence exists, but it’s not there. Or else I do have the video and show them to him, but he thinks I am just pretending to get sick, or that I must have some preexisting vomiting condition, or that I forced Burger King to apologize wrongfully. At that point I could ask him to believe the claim by faith and trust, even though the evidence is overwhelming.

    Years ago I really did get sick from eating a “Whopper” burger on vacation with my family and later told a friend about it, and his response was that he ate Whoppers all over America and never got sick.


    1. So “believing on trust” doesn’t necessarily mean the evidence is not there or even is not overwhelming.
      I could tell you to trust me that my car is blue or to trust me that the photo of my blue car is real. It doesn’t mean there is or isn’t overwhelming evidence. I could show you 50 other pieces of good evidence and add at the end “trust me on this one”.


  4. Interesting issue actually.
    If I tell you that a referee at a game told me you aren’t allowed to throw the ball hard at a player directly, and to “trust him”, what would that mean?
    Maybe it means that you are trusting the STORY of the referee and you are trusting ME.
    I think there is enough evidence for me to accept that Jesus held himself out to be the Messiah and went around asking people to “trust him”. He also seems to meet some major qualifications for the Messiah…


  5. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

    That sounds very different from “trust” to me.


    1. Not sure how much it is worth debating you on this topic. Probably after downplaying the actual Christian importance of Works, the Fundamentalists and to some extent Lutherans put the concept of Faith on steroids. Orthodox and early Christians were probably less roided up on the borderlines and definitions of faith. I know that to express serious doubts in Fundamentalism is a big no no because it means maybe you are not “saved”. And that’s ultra bad because if you are not saved, you are DEFINITELY 100% “Totally Depraved”. Someone could say to Jesus “I believe help my unbelief” and be OK.
      But a Fundamentalist? If you have “unbelief” it means you are bad news.

      OK, so let’s get back to actual meanings of words:

      A “Credo” or “Creed” can be a “statement of faith” or “statement of belief.”
      The Nicene “Creed” begins “I believe…”
      It is a “faith” statement.
      The Latin word can mean faith or belief.

      I guess there are slightly different connotations in English (faith vs. other words), but at base it’s probably not a big difference.

      You actually quoted Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is the assurance…”
      In the original Greek the word is pistis.

      Strong’s dictionary says:
      Short Definition: faith, belief, trust
      Definition: faith, belief, trust, confidence; fidelity, faithfulness.

      Here is one place this word is used:
      “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

      I think having tiny faith like a mustard seed is not a concept that is part of Fundamentalism.

      The Russian word for Faith and Belief is the same word = Vera.
      Russian for Heb 11:1 uses Vera as the word for “Faith”.
      Same word is used in the start of the Nicene Creed: Veruyu (I believe)
      They are synonyms.
      “I trust” = Doveryayu . Same root word. “Doveryayu” etymologically means “I accomplish belief”.

      I recommend that you read about the concept of “Holy Doubt”.
      I think this concept is not something people practically ever hear about in Protestantism.



  6. When it comes to issues like A. “inheritance of original sin”, B. “total depravity”, and C. “holy doubt”, the Orthodox Church, early Christianity, and Judaism share a bit more with each other than Protestantism does. Only Protestantism accepts A and B.

    Judaism on Holy Doubt:

    Frederica Greens has a chapter on Holy Doubt in her book
    At the Corner of East and Now: A Modern Life in Ancient Christian Orthodoxy

    Eastern Orthodox article on Doubt in Russian:


  7. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
    That sounds very different from “trust” to me.

    Not to me. (Brain soaked in Russian)
    “Now Vera(Faith / Belief) is the assurance of things hoped for.”
    Doveriue = Trust = “Accomplished Belief” = “Belief put in”


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