One aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is alternately translated as faith or faithfulness. Which translation is correct? Does the Holy Spirit produce faith in God or faithfulness to Him?
One of the greatest gifts God gives to repentant and baptized Christians is His Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). And through the Holy Spirit, He produces the fruit of the Spirit that Paul describes in Galatians 5.
The fruit of the Spirit is a huge area to study and grow in. We have articles about each element on Life, Hope & Truth. In this article we’ll focus on just one aspect, but it’s one that has been translated different ways.
Many people memorized the fruit of the Spirit this way:
“Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23, King James Version, emphasis added throughout).
Many others learned it this way:
“Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (New King James Version).
Four of the nine words were translated differently in the New King James Version. Let’s look at one of those.
Is the fruit of the Spirit faith or faithfulness?
First, let’s consider what some biblical scholars have said about the word translated “faith” in the KJV and “faithfulness” in the NKJV.
William Barclay’s Study Bible translates this word as “fidelity”:
“This word (pistis, Greek #4102) is common in secular Greek for trustworthiness. It is the characteristic of the man who is reliable.”
The Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary says Christians “are to be characterized by ‘faithfulness’ … a word that also means ‘faith,’ but undoubtedly here means that which makes a person one on whom others can rely—i.e., trustworthiness or reliability. This word describes a faithful servant (Lk 16:10-12), including servants of the Gospel and of Christ (1Ti 1:12; 2Ti 2:2). It describes the character of those who will die for their confession of Christ (Rev 2:10; 3:14). It goes without saying that it is also descriptive of the character of Christ, the faithful witness (Rev 1:5), and of God the Father, who always acts faithfully toward his people (1Co 1:9; 10:13; 1Th 5:24; 2Th 3:3).”
So it seems the New King James Version translators had good reason to change it to “faithfulness,” as more modern word studies show. But it is not a new understanding of the word. Looking back on older commentaries, you can also find it. Here is what Adam Clarke’s Commentary says:
“Faith. Here used for ‘fidelity’—punctuality in performing promises, conscientious carefulness in preserving what is committed to our trust, in restoring it to the proper owner, in transacting the business confided to us, neither betraying the secret of our friend, nor disappointing the confidence of our employer.”
So it does seem that in the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, “faithfulness” is the better translation.
What about faith?
But does that mean faith isn’t a fruit of God’s Spirit or that it isn’t important? Not at all!
The Bible shows that faith is an essential element of the Christian life. Interestingly, faith is important even before we receive the Holy Spirit!
We must have faith even before we make the commitment to be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. But what is the real spark of that faith?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
We must be called by God (John 6:44), and an aspect of that calling is the initial seed of faith.
Ultimately everything begins with God: the grace, the salvation and even the faith! We have to respond, of course. We must put our trust in Him and strive to believe and do what He says. We must yield to Him and seek to grow in faith. And the faith and forgiveness we receive should motivate us to produce, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit.
Our personal faith, belief and trust must be exercised at the beginning of the journey and throughout it, but it can only take us so far. Upon receiving the gift of God’s Spirit, Christ can now live within us and enable us to grow into the faith of the Son of God.
Many misunderstand Ephesians 2:8-9, thinking Paul was demeaning the importance of “works”—of our obedience, our actions of doing good and trying to be like Christ. Paul did say in verse 9 that God’s grace is “not of works, lest anyone should boast.” We can’t do anything to make up for our past sins. We can’t do anything to earn being forgiven and justified. That required death—ours or Christ’s.
But once we have accepted Christ’s sacrifice and been forgiven, what does Paul say we should do?
Verse 10 says: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
God created us to do good works. He wants us to believe and to do. He wants us to follow Jesus Christ’s example. He wants us to have faith—and to be faithful.
How we grow in faith
Faith is demonstrated and proved by what we do. Belief and obedience go hand in hand. Living faith and faithfulness are inseparable.So from Ephesians 2 we see faith is given before baptism, but that is just the beginning. We must grow in faith, and how do we do that? Can we say that faith is also a fruit of the Spirit? Looking up “faith” and “spirit” in a Bible concordance or online Bible, we find several connections.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 12:9 Paul included “faith” in a list of gifts given through the Holy Spirit. And in 2 Corinthians 4:13 he talked about having the “same spirit of faith.” The apostle Peter talked about the divine power and the divine nature—other ways of describing God’s Holy Spirit—helping a Christian “add to your faith virtue” and so on (2 Peter 1:3-5).
So, even if Paul didn’t list “faith” in Galatians 5, it is still something we must grow in through the Holy Spirit.
Coming full circle on faith
To bring things full circle, consider what James wrote about faith. Faith itself has fruits. In his first chapter, James said we must not be hearers only, but doers. In chapter 2 he added that we must not be believers only, but doers of God’s way of love.
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
Faith is demonstrated and proved by what we do. Belief and obedience go hand in hand. Living faith and faithfulness are inseparable.
We must receive faith even to be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. Then we must grow in faith through the Holy Spirit. And our faith is demonstrated in its fruit of obedience and faithfulness!
So, no matter which way you memorized the fruit of the Spirit, you are right. It’s not faith or faithfulness. God wants us to grow in both faith and faithfulness!