Pistis and Fides as Civic and Divine Virtues: A Pauline Concept through Greco-Roman Eyes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapter Professional

4 Downloads (Pure)


The teaching of justification through faith as it has generally been understood in reformed theology since Luther emphasizes either the role of the individual’s faith or the role of God’s faithfulness in justification. Since the New Perspective the focus has shifted towards more social understandings of Paul’s concept of faith. New communal models are argued for that describe pistis as eschatological participation in Christ or as replacement of the law as social boundary marker. In order to understand the pistis-vocabulary of Paul better, it is helpful to situate it in contemporary usage. Drawing from the field of cognitive linguistics, we may ask ourselves in what contexts, or ‘forms of life’, pistis, fides and cognates were ‘at home’. In this paper I will discuss a selection of passages from several Latin and Greek sources (roughly) contemporary to Paul that highlight both civic and religious aspects of pistis/fides. These sources show how pistis/fides was considered a prominent civic virtue, was propagated in political theory as the social cement of society, and was regarded as a condition for justice. As such, this social aspect is closely related to religious piety. According to authors like Cicero, Plutarch and Epictetus it was the gods who gave pistis/fides to humanity, who possess the quality of pistis/fides in a more perfect manner, and who are even supposed to be imitated in pistis/fides. These uses of pistis/fides question the scholarly consensus that the Pauline concept of faith derives its meaning solely from the Septuagint translation or from Hellenistic Judaism, owing nothing to Paul’s Greco-Roman environment. On the contrary, to Paul’s pagan public, faith/trust appears to have been a common civic and religious notion. Furthermore, the frequent use of sociopolitical words in Paul substantiates the claim that Paul’s message of faith is as much about mutual solidarity and communal trust in God as it is about personal salvation. I conclude with a few suggestions how these insights could inform a reading of specific Pauline texts in order to explore this potential.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPaul’s Graeco-Roman Context
EditorsC. Breytenbach
PublisherPeeters Publishers
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)978-90-429-3271-5
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Publication series

NameBibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium


  • pistis
  • fides
  • Paul of Tarsus
  • faith

Cite this