An LDS Lexicon: Faith

This is the first entry in what I hope will be an on-going series I call “An LDS Lexicon.”

I have always been interested in words, their etymologies, meanings, and relationships. Often we uses words with only a superficial understanding of what they can mean, how they have changed, and how they can relate to other concepts. Of course, language itself is ever changing, but I think that we often underestimate how some interrelated meanings and word roots are propagated with little change throughout history.

For a while I have wanted to compile information and insights about the words that we use in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as we talk about the Gospel and the Church. Each entry in my LDS Lexicon series will contain etymology, etymologically related words, some information about the Hebrew and and Greek terms from which the word is translated in the Bible (if applicable), and some personal insights about the word.

The views are my own and do not represent the official stance of the church, and as such they are subject to change as my own experience and knowledge increases. Entries may be updated with additional or corrected information.

[UPDATE: Forgive the lack of characters on the etymological words.  My migration to wordpress caused me to lose some data.]

The first entry follows:


Etymology & Roots

bheidh- (Indo European root – “to trust”)
fidere (Latin – “to trust, confide in”)
fides (Latin – “faith, belief, trust”)
feid (Old French)
feith (Middle English)
faith (Modern English)

Etymologically Related Words

bheidh- (Indo European root – “to trust”)
fidere (Latin – “to trust, confide in”)
fides (Latin – “faith, belief, trust”)
fay, fealty, fideism, fidelity, infidel, perfidy

bheidh- (Indo European root – “to trust”)
fidere (Latin – “to trust, confide in”)
fidus (Latin – “faithful”)
fiancé, fiducial, fiduciary, affiance, affiant, affidavit, confidant, confide,confident, defiance, defy, diffident

bheidh- (Indo European root – “to trust”)
feodus, foeder- (Latin – “treaty, league)
federal, federate, confederate

bheidh- (Indo European root – “to trust”)

*bidan (Germanic – “to await trustingly, expect, trust”)
bidan (Old English – “to wait, stay”)
abide, abode

Translated in KJV from Old Testament Hebrew Words

??? (aw- man’) – to support, confirm, be faithful
Total occurrences: 108 in 102 verses
Translated as: believe (44), assurance (1), faithful (20), sure (11), established (7), trust (5), verified (3), stedfast (2), continuance (2), father (2), bring up (4), nurse (2), be nursed (1), surely be (1), stand fast (1), fail (1), trusty (1)

????? (em- oo- naw’) – firmness, fidelity, steadfastness, steadiness
Total occurrences: 49 in 49 verses
Translated as: faithfulness (18), truth (13), faithfully (5), office (5), faithful (3), faith (1), stability (1), steady (1), truly (1), verily (1)

???? (ay- moon’) – faithfulness, trusting
Total occurrences: 5 in 5 verses
Translated as: faithful (3), truth (1), faith (1)

??? (eh’- meth) – firmness, faithfulness, truth
Total occurrences: 127 in 125 verses
Translated as: truth (92), true (18), truly (7), right (3), faithfully (2), assured (1), assuredly (1), establishment (1), faithful (1), sure (1), verity (1)

Translated in KJV from New Testament Greek Words

????? (el- pece’) – expectation of good, hope
from root elpo – to anticipate, usually with pleasure
Total occurrences: 54 in 48 verses
Translated as: hope (53), faith (1)

?????? (pis’- tis) – 1. conviction of the truth, belief with trust 2. fidelity, faithfulness
from verb ????? (pi’- t- ho) – to persuade, win good will, or yield
Total occurrences: 244 in 228 verses
Translated as: faith (239), assurance (1), believe(1), belief (1), fidelity (1)

?????? (pis- tos’) – 1. trusty, faithful; 2. easily persuaded
from verb ????? (pi’- tho) – to persuade, win good will, or yield
Total occurrences: 66 in 62 verses
Translated as: faithful (53), believe (6), believing (2), true (2), faithfully (1), believer (1), sure (1)

Insight and Notes

In the Church we often define faith as “to hope for things that are not seen, but are true.” Sometimes we get bogged down in esoteric concepts of faith as a principle of power or a metaphysical construct. But faith, saving faith, is fundamentally simple: faith is trust.

When we have a degree of faith we have a level of trust that the Lord is what He claims to be, that we are what He says we are, and that He will fulfill his promises to us if we will fulfill ours to Him.

A review of words etymologically related to faith shows that the concept of covenant appears to be fundamentally intertwined with words related to faith.

According to a language note in the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots several of the descendants of the root bheidh-, from which the English word faith is derived, refer specifically to the mutual trust upon which covenants and social contracts are based in order to be binding. It is sometimes used in conjunction with the ancient concept of the guest-host covenant relationship. This guest-host relationship was very important to Indo-European cultures and involved a mutual understanding of reciprocal responsibilities of hospitality. A mutual exchange of gifts established a covenant bond of trust and friendship, similar to kinship, between two people. In Germanic cultures it was often an exchange of rings or bracelets- a tradition that survives in our modern marriage ceremony. Once established, that relationship would continue perpetually and could be renewed by the decedents of the participants. The dictionary also notes that one word from the same root is an obscure Albanian term that refers to the a pledge by the family of a murdered man to the family of the murderer not to seek retribution through blood feud. It notes that this pledge is a fundamental expression of the social contract.

Our faith in God is related to our covenant with Him. Like the guest-host covenant and the social contract, the holy covenant established between God and Abraham creates a perpetual relationship between them and is renewable by the decedents of Abraham. Likewise, the covenant we enter into with Christ, through the ordinances establish a similar relationship that revolves around our trust in him. Baptism in particular is an ordinance of trust and submission where we submit to Christ, or his authorized representative, and he lowers us into the waters of death and affliction and we trust that he will lift us out again and resurrect us from the death that results.

Just as with other covenants, faith is the underlying trust that makes the contract binding.

Without a correct understanding of the stipulations of the pact, and without an authorized representative of God to administer the oaths and seal the relationship, we cannot trust that the covenant will be honored. In other words, we must have the priesthood and the correct ordinances in order to have true faith.

We acquire faith by acting on the assertions of witnesses who testify of principles or ideas from first hand experience. This is similar to when a jury or a judge makes a decision about an individual’s guilt or innocence and applies a punishment based upon the testimony of witnesses and the evidences of things that they were not present to see themselves. They act by faith because they have no personal knowledge of the events at which they were not present.

Each time we act out of faith in the Lord or the words of those who testify of Him, His words are verified as a result and our trust, or faith, in Him increases. This concept is reflected both in the roots of the etymologically related word “abide” and in its definition: “to wait for trustingly, to endure, to sustain, to bear patiently.” In general when we abide we adhere to, defend, or maintain an agreement, a promise, or a friend. To abide presupposes trust, faith, and a relationship.

In the Book of Mormon, Alma explains this process of incremental faith by acting on the word in his discourse to the Zoramites about experimenting upon the word. (Alma 32)

God calls prophets from among mankind to whom he reveals himself, sends messengers (angels) and establishes his covenant. He gives them authority and power of attorney to act in his behalf to administer the sacraments to others. These prophets act as witnesses to the people, who if they will act upon the assertions of the witnesses, will develop trust in their message as they experience the fruits of their faith-based action.

The Book of Mormon prophet Moroni provides the most succinct explanation of these concepts in Moroni chapter 7, verses 21 – 34 :

And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing. For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing. And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come. And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.

Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ. And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men? For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens.

And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men. For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness. And the office of their ministry is to call men unto
repentance, and to fulfill and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him.

And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men.

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