Biblical Studies Faith in the New Testament
Nijay Gupta
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0284


Faith language is prevalent in the New Testament (NT; esp. pistis, pisteuō), but only in the early 21st century did this topic become a major subject of scholarship (leaving aside the pistis Christou debate, which has attracted steady interest and scholarship since the middle of the 20th century). Interest in NT faith language intersects with numerous fields and disciples including classics, lexical semantics, Septuagint studies, and vigorous debates in Pauline studies and Pauline theology.

Pistis in Greco-Roman Literature

Key studies have appeared in the early 21st century attempting to contextualize NT faith language, especially pistis, in the Greco-Roman world and in relation to contemporaneous pagan and Jewish Greco-Roman literature. Morgan 2015 and Frey, et al. 2017 are the most thorough and comprehensive and should be consulted first and foremost. Strecker 2005 and van der Heiden, et al. 2017 are oriented toward philosophy, Crook 2004 toward patronage, and Geoffrion 1993 toward political discourse. We will comment on (non-Jewish) Greco-Roman literature under this heading. The key works to consult are Morgan 2015 and the Frey, et al. 2017 collection.

  • Crook, Zeba. Reconceptualising Conversion: Patronage, Loyalty, and Conversion in the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110915600

    Crook’s fifth chapter on patronage and benefaction argues that NT writers didn’t conceive of “conversion” in primary individualistic cognitive terms, but as a social event; namely the shifting of one’s loyalties (i.e., pistis) from one group to another. Crook includes a discussion of how pistis related to loyalty and allegiance in the ancient world.

  • Downing, F. Gerald. “Order in Thought: Ambiguity, Ancient Semantics, and Faith.” New Testament Studies 56 (2009): 139–162.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0028688509990221

    Downing offers a mature reflection on the ancient use of pistis (and its cognates) in relation to semantics, semiotics, and psycholinguistics. He encourages a context-oriented approach, cautioning interpreters against simply selecting an option in a lexicon.

  • Frey, Jörg, Benjamin Schliesser, and Nadine Ueberschaer. Glaube: Das Verständnis des Glaubens im frühen Christentum und in seiner jüdischen und hellenistisch-römischen Umwelt. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 373. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2017.

    This is an important collection of thirty-two essays that cover a range of texts on the subject of faith (German: Glaube). Arzt-Grabner (“Zum alltagssprachlichen Hintergrund von pistis: Das Zeugnis der dokumentarischen Papyri”) helpfully demonstrates the widespread and common association of pistis with credibility, reliability, and loyalty. Hirsch-Luipold (“Religiöse Tradition und individueller Glaube: Πίστις und πιστεύειν bei Plutarch als Hintergrund zum neutestamentlichen Glaubensverständnis”) offers Plutarch as one of the clearest and most extensive Hellenistic exemplars of the use of faith language with a religious-philosophical orientation.

  • Geoffrion, Timothy. The Rhetorical Purpose and the Political and Military Character of Philippians: A Call to Stand Firm. Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1993.

    Geoffrion contains some contextualizing material for Paul’s political language in Philippians, including the use of pistis in Greco-Roman political and martial discourse. Geoffrion demonstrates the common use of pistis in political texts that relate to concord, unity, and loyalty. His work on pistis is not as detailed or as methodologically rigorous, but helpfully relates pistis to other political language used in the Hellenistic world.

  • Morgan, Teresa. Roman Faith and Christian Faith: Pistis and Fides in the Early Roman Empire and the Early Churches. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198724148.001.0001

    Morgan, a respected historian and scholar of early Christianity, wrote an important book examining faith language (Greek, pistis, Latin, fides) in non-Christian Greco-Roman texts and the NT and some of the Apostolic Fathers. In particular, Morgan draws out the social dynamics of popular usage of faith language. This is now considered the most thoroughly argued discussion of faith language of Antiquity.

  • Strecker, Christian. “Fides-Pistis-Glaube: Kontexte und Konturen einer Theologie der ‘Annahme’ bei Paulus.” In Lutherische und Neue Paulusperspektive. Edited by Michael Bachmann, 223–250. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 182. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005.

    Strecker examines how faith language was used more broadly in the Roman world in relation to social fidelity and concord.

  • van der Heiden, Gert-Jan, George van Kooten, and Antonio Cimino. Saint Paul and Philosophy. New York: De Gruyter, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110547467

    This collection examines the philosophical dynamics of pistis language in Paul and other writings in the ancient world. The section entitled “Paul and Πίστις in the Greco-Roman World” (Part 2) contains several essays that engage with faith language in Greco-Roman texts; especially important are: Françoise Frazier, “Returning to ‘Religious’ Πιστις: Platonism and Piety in Plutarch and Neoplatonism,” and Suzan Sierksma-Agteres, “The Metahistory of Δίκη and Πίστις.”

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.