By Joe McIntyre
One controversial aspect of the modern Faith movement is the idea that we can exercise the “God-kind of faith.” This phrase is taken from Mark 11:22 in which Jesus says, “have faith in God.” Many scholars tell us that it literally means, “have the faith of God.” Many Faith Teachers have said that we are to have, therefore, the “God-kind of faith.” This would be the kind of faith that Jesus exercised when He commanded the fig tree to wither up from the roots and it did. (See Mark 11:12-14; 20-23).
In the parallel passage in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea’ it will be done”(Matthew 21:21). In the context, Jesus is discussing the cursing of the fig tree and the disciple’s ability to duplicate Jesus’ behavior. He assures them that they can even command a mountain to be removed and cast into the sea. He describes this ability as “faith in God” or “the faith of God’ depending on which reading of the original Greek we deem correct.
In a respected commentary on Mark’s gospel, Joseph Addison Alexander mentions that in Jesus’ teaching the disciples about faith, He found it necessary to address their failures. “For such deficiency of faith, i.e., of confidence in the divine power to effect such changes, or at least in the divine grant to themselves of a derivative authority to do the same. Have (more emphatic than in English, and denoting rather to retain or hold fast) faith in God, literally, of God, a Greek idiom, in which the genitive denotes the object, and which has sometimes been retained in the translation as it is here in the margin of the English Bible.” (The Gospel According to Mark, Thornapple Commentaries, Joseph Addison Alexander, p. 310).
Many who have been critical of this idea of ‘having the faith of God’ rightly point out that God is the object of our faith and the primary meaning of the Greek word for faith is trust in something or someone. “So,” they reason, “faith isn’t something God has, it’s something we have in God.”
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon gives as its first meaning for pistis (the Greek word for faith) “conviction of the truth of anything, belief; In the N. T. of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust… when it relates to God, pistis is the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ.”
Thayer’s definition expresses what most people mean when they say that faith is something that we have toward God, not something that God has or exercises. Most Christians would be in agreement that this is the primary meaning of the concept of faith and the Greek word pistis.
But is this the only valid usage of the word in the New Testament? Does pistis ever have another meaning in the Scripture which is related but not identical? Let’s investigate a little further.
In the exercise of faith that Jesus was teaching about in Mark 11, it was not only faith toward God that He was advocating. Based on a living faith in God, Jesus was saying to his disciples that they needed to also exercise faith in the word of command. They were to speak to an obstacle (a fig tree or a mountain) and command something to happen to that obstacle. Jesus said “if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘be removed and be cast into the sea’, it will be done.”(Matthew 21:21).
In the parallel passage in Mark it says, “whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes [pisteuo- verb form of pistis] that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.”
The exercise of faith in this passage is not only faith toward God, but the word faith is used in a secondary sense, faith in the words that are commanded. “if you believe those things you say, you will have whatever you say.”
Jesus again expresses this same idea in Luke’s gospel. “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea’ and it would obey you”(Luke 17:6). Jesus is talking about releasing faith, not in God as the object of our faith, but in the words that we speak. Certainly this presupposes that we have faith in God and are moving in obedience to the Holy Spirit. It is our faith in God that emboldens us to exercise this faith in our words.
My point is that the word faith, though primarily used in Scripture to describe our trust toward God, is also used to describe the confidence we have in the words we speak in what is known as the “command” of faith. This is the primary way, although not the only way, that Jesus ministered to the sick and oppressed. “Arise and walk,” “Daughter, I say unto you, ‘arise,’ “etc.
Scholars refer to this usage of the word pistis or faith as the “word of power.” For example, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Vol. 1, p.600) in its article on pistis says, “The picture of faith moving mountains (Mark 11:23) and uprooting the fig tree (Luke 17:6) confirm the word of power that is able to transform the created order. The instructions to the disciples in Mark 11:24. show the connection in the teaching between the promise that rests upon the word of power and supplication. The supplication is the prerequisite of the word of power.”
In other words, faith toward God in prayer (supplication) precedes the release of the command of faith (the word of power). But both of these concepts (supplication and the word of power) are described by the one word: faith. (pistis in Greek).
So, does God have faith? Well, we might ask does God speak words which He expects to change things? Did God create the universe by speaking words that He expected to “transform the created order”? Is it a valid usage of the word “faith” to describe the power released in words, whether human or divine, sent for to change or transform the created order? I believe it is. Is it appropriate to call this having “the God-kind of faith”? I think so.
In fact, on of the most respected Greek scholars coined this phrase to describe what Jesus was talking about in Mark 11:22. Hank Hanegraaff refers to this man, A.T. Robertson, as “almost universally accepted as the final word on Greek grammar.” (Christianity In Crisis, p. 90).
So what does A.T. Robertson say about the phrase ‘have faith in God’ in Mark 11:22? Robertson says, “in Mark 11:22… we rightly translate ‘have faith in God, though the genitive [the Greek case] does not mean ‘in’, but only the God kind of faith.” (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, p. 500). This most universally accepted Greek scholar tells us that the “God kind of faith” is the true meaning of Mark 11:22!
God speaks things into existence. When He declares something, He believes it will come to pass.
For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. Psalms 33:9
We are created in His image and likeness. As we submit to Him and seek to do His will, He authorizes us to speak on His behalf and with His authority.