[B-Greek] Question on range of meaning of PISTIS/PISTOS as used in GNT

Iver Larsen iver_larsen at sil.org
Tue Feb 25 09:16:39 EST 2003

Hi, Chuck

You ask some good questions. Let me comment on that part which has to do
with translation and semantic range.
> Now, when I look through the lexicons available to me (Liddell and  Scott,
> and Thayer's), of course there is a fairly broad range of words
> to translate,
> PISTIS and PISTOS.  For PISTIS: trust, faith, persuasion, confidence,
> assurance.  PISTOS: in passive sense: faithful, trustworthy, genuine, in
> active sense: believing, loyal, obedient.  (these are all Liddell
> and Scott definitions).
> My question is this:  Does PISTIS/PISTOS encompass all these definitions?
> Is it possible that someone translating PISTIS/PISTOS into
> English is forced to select one of these elements (faith, trustworthiness,
> obedience) which in the opinion of the translator is most prominent and
perhaps which
> flows best in the English but in so fails to bring out the other elements
> present in the Greek.  Should I mentally be adding all of these when I see
> those types of statements in the New Testament?

To your first question: yes. PISTIS/PISTOS do have those ranges of meaning.
(No need to quarrel with the dictionary here.)
To your second question: yes. A translator will normally be forced to select
one word in English which in a particular context will best catch the sense
of the original word IN THAT CONTEXT. (I assume one is not making an
Amplified Bible kind of translation.)
To your third question: no, not necessarily. Any word with a broad range of
senses will normally have a particular sense in focus in a particular
context. Not all *potential* senses are *active* or relevant in each
context. It is the context that helps the reader (or translator) to chose
between possible senses and which words to use in the translation. So, if
the translator chooses one word, it does not necessarily mean that he "fails
to bring out the other elements present in the Greek". In some cases the
choice is difficult, and it may be a real dilemma. It is in those cases,
that a translator would often add a footnote.
One instance of a difficult choice is in Titus 1:6 (which has been discussed
on b-greek before). Does TEKNA ECWN PISTA mean he must have children who are
believers (as most English versions seem to believe)? Or does it mean that
he must have faithful, loyal, trustworthy children (as I would understand
it)? Here I prefer the KJV and the NET Bible which say: "faithful children"
and the  footnote explains the other option: "Or “believing children.” The
phrase could be translated “believing children,” but the parallel with 1 Tim
3.4 (“keeping his children in control”) argues for the sense given in the
translation." (In the Danish dynamic translation we have said for the whole
verse: He must be faithful in his marriage and have taught his children to
be faithful.)
> Or in the New Testament, should PISTIS EIS CRISTON (Acts 24.24) be seen as
> DIKAIOS 1 John 1:9.  I.e. PISTIS EIS CHRISTON = placing our trust in
> someone who is trust worthy.  I don't think PISTEUEIN EIS CRISTON can be
> read as "be loyal to Christ."

Maybe not, but hOI PISTOI EN CRISTWi would be the faithful ones who belong
to Christ. "Loyal" is part of being PISTOS, but it is used in a particular
kind of context where a servant is loyal to his master or a soldier to his
commander or a leader to his king. Faithful includes loyal, but is more than
that. A faithful witness is someone who can be counted on to tell the truth.
A faithful God is someone who can be counted on to stand by his word and
promises, someone who will not let you down. PISTOS also includes the idea
of someone who will hang in to the end, willing to endure persecution
without giving up his loyalty, if you will, to his master.

PISTOS can in the NT refer to "a believer". But being a believer in the NT
sense is not primarily an intellectual accept of a doctrine or a set of
doctrines, but a matter of surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord, and in that
sense, the idea of loyalty and unwavering commitment is part of it, I
believe. It would be a contradiction in terms to talk about an "unfaithful

Those are my thoughts,
Iver Larsen

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