Archive for August 17th, 2011
So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Romans 10:17 NASB
Hearing – If you were Paul, the Jewish rabbi Sha’ul, what Hebrew word would you have in mind when you wrote the Greek verb akoe (to hear)? There can only be one obvious answer – shama. But as soon as we realize that Sha’ul has shama in mind, we must revise our Westernized interpretation of this verse. Sha’ul is not saying that all we need to do is listen to words spoken in order to experience faith. He is saying precisely what the Torah says. Hearing and obeying are the same action. The Greek verb akoe might describe merely the reception of audio signals, but the Hebrew verb shama never is satisfied with this vapid explanation. In Hebrew, to hear is to act upon what is heard. Until I do what I have heard, I haven’t heard anything at all! Greek emphasizes the causality of hearing (how it happens). Hebrew emphasizes the purpose of hearing (what it means for my subsequent behavior).
And now that we’re looking at this verse from a Jewish, rabbinic perspective, what do you suppose “faith” would be in Hebrew? How about emunah? Once again we must recognize the Hebraic nuance. Emunah is not about words. It’s not about true statements of doctrinal creeds or the Sinner’s Prayer. Emunah means reliability, trustworthiness, steadfastness. Faith in Hebrew is about standing on the rock-solid instructions of God. Faith is the result of obedience, not the precondition of obedience. First I do it, then I discover that I am able to stand on His word. I choose to obey, then I experience His working in me. That’s why Sha’ul can say, emunah (is) of shama (by the way, the verb “to come” is not found in the Greek text. Neither is the verb “to be”). Literally, Sha’ul employs a Hebrew grammatical form written in Greek. Literally, he says ha-emunah shama (“the faith of hearing/obeying”). In Hebrew, the verb “is” must be supplied. It is assumed but not written. This construction is quite common, but its implication is profound. In Hebrew this construction expresses an equivalence of function. Emunah is shama. I can’t have one without the other. To have faith is to hear/obey. To hear/obey is to have faith. No Jewish reader of this letter would have had any objections to this statement. But for us, this is a big shock. We think of faith as something distinct from its attributes or its causal precursors. We think of faith as some kind of spiritual entity that is brought into being by hearing God’s word, as though hearing God’s word is a separate activity from having faith. Consequently, we do not draw an equivalence between hear/obey and faith. We think it is possible to have faith and yet not obey. Sha’ul would throw up his hands and say, “Oy vey! Where did you come from?”
The shocking element to Sha’ul’s statement is not the equivalence of emunah and shama. The shocking statement is that shama is tied directly to the rhema of Ha-Mashiach. But that will have to wait for tomorrow. We probably have enough to absorb for today.
Topical Index: faith, hearing, akoe, shama, emunah, Romans 10:17