Salvation by Allegiance Alone? Part 2

In part 1, I described how Matt Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone had a helpful description of the gospel that included the enthronement of Christ and gave it a distinctly V shape. In this post, I will give a few reasons why I don’t think allegiance is the best macro term for translating pistis (usually rendered as faith or trust).

Clarifications

But before I do that, it is important to note what Bates is not arguing. Here are some common misconceptions about his argument.

  • First, he is not arguing that allegiance is the best way to translate every occurrence of pistis. Rather he argues that allegiance is the best macro-term available to us that can describe what God requires from us for eternal salvation (5).
  • Second, he is correcting the misconception of pistis as merely facts we are called to mentally affirm (See Chapter 1).
  • Third, he is not claiming that pistis is a work; he still affirms it is a gift of God (102-03). Or to put this more pointedly, although it includes human agency it is based on the agency of God.

How the Term Allegiance Helps

While I don’t think allegiance is the best macro term, I do appreciate the emphasis upon both the kingship of Jesus and the necessity of our active loyalty (or allegiance) to the king. Protestants can be so skittish about the role of works in relation to salvation, and Bates points to the Scriptures arguing that faith and works should not necessarily be opposed; it is a certain kind of works that faith is in antithesis to.

It also should be noted that Bates is pushing against misconceptions of what faith or trust has popularly come to mean. He devotes the whole first chapter to what Faith is Not: (1) the opposite of evidence, (2) a leap in the dark, (3) the opposite of works, (4) an attitude that says “it’s all good,” (5) or reducible to intellectual assent.

Therefore, I can affirm much of what Bates writes when he speaks of Jesus as king, the role of works, and our active obedience to Christ. In light of some misconceptions about faith or trust, I agree that at times it may be helpful to emphasize the loyalty and allegiance aspect of pistis. I would even go further and argue that in some contexts it might be better translated as allegiance or loyalty.

For classical Protestants, nothing is new here. We have always believed that faith is decidedly loyal, or else it is no faith at all (see James). The historic teaching of Protestantism has broken faith down into three components: knowledge, assent, and trust—notitiaassensus, and fiducia. Bates argues that we have over-emphasized the notia aspect and we need to recover the fiducia.

Four Points of Evidence

But four points of evidence also make me pause about seeing allegiance as the best macro term for pistis: (1) the Abraham story, (2) the antonyms to pistis, (3) clarifications of what pistis is in the Scriptures, and (4) how Paul opposes faith and works.

Abraham Story

One of the most significant reservations I have comes from Paul’s description of the Abraham story. For Paul, the Abraham narrative is the defining example of what it means to have pistis. When Paul is challenged by Judaizers, he runs to Abraham.

And as Bates admits, allegiance does not make sense of Paul’s use of the term for the Abraham story. The key text is as follows.

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19–21 ESV)

Notice here that Paul describes pistis as being “fully convinced” in the promises of God. It speaks about him “considering the bareness of Sarah’s womb” and “no unbelief concerning the promise of God.” At least in this context, for Paul, pistis seems to have a more receptive component.

Bates actually agree saying:

Here for Paul pistis does mean something like trust. But I submit that our English term allegiance is a larger category capable of assuming the notion of mental assent to the reliability of God’s testimony…In other words, yes, Paul and others do say that we must believe or trust, but these metaphors are best adjusted and subsumed within the richer category of allegiance (90).

The problem is that the Abraham story defines the nature of faith for Paul. It is not just a minor problem that “faith” or “trust” works better in Romans 4. Yanking Paul’s main example for what faith is like removing the central piece to the Jenga puzzle. Once that piece is gone, the tower is on shaky ground.

So rather than arguing that allegiance is the larger category, why not argue that in the Scriptures “faith or trust,” i.e. mental assent to the faithfulness of God, is the larger category under which allegiance or loyalty are assumed? I agree with Bates that we need to work against a purely propositional or intellectual sense of pistis, but we also need to have a word that maps well onto the central story of pistis for Jews. If the Abraham story is the paradigm, then his narrative should be the hub we work from, not something we pave around.

Antonyms to Pistis

The second reason I am wary of glossing pistis as allegiance is because consistently the antonym of pistis does revolve around some sort of lack of mental assent. Here are a few examples.

  • Matthew 21:21 “And Jesus answered them, ‘Truly I say to you, if you have faith (pistis) and do not doubt (diakrinō)…
    • Notice that the contrast to faith is “doubting” or “evaluating” or “considering.”
  • Romans 14:22-23 “The faith (pistis) that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment (mē krinō) on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts (diakrinō) is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith (pistis). For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
    • The same diakrinō word group is used to contrast faith.
  • Romans 4:20-21 “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, full convinced (plērophoreō) that God was able to do what he had promised.
    • The word here that Paul uses to expand upon Abraham’s pistis is can mean to fill, to convince fully, to be certain. It does not speak of disloyalty or traitor-ship.

Now you might rightly say, “Well aren’t there other antonyms used? And do they line up more with allegiance?” I did not have time to do an exhaustive search, but it was telling that in the Scriptures pistis is rarely contrasted with asynthetos (faithless), apostrephō (to turn away or be disloyal), parabasis (transgression, disobedience), or apeitheia (disobedience, disbelief).[1]

It is contrasted with apistis or the verbal form apisteō (to disbelieve) but the point of this exercise is to look at some of the words in the same semantic range to see if they shed light on the meaning of pistis. The words consistently used map more onto the cognitive category.

Add to this that in Louw & Nida, a famous lexicon that collects words by semantic domain, groups the pistis word group under the category of “Hold a View, Believe, Truth” (31). The subdomains include “agree, consent, acknowledge, suppose, think possible, believe to be true, accept as true, trust, and rely.” Now of course Louw & Nida could be wrong in their categorization, but they don’t include it with words like allegiance or loyalty.

Clarifications of Pistis

The third reason I am wary is because there are times when the biblical writers clarify what they mean by faith with a description or a modifier. In Hebrews 11:1 the author describes pistis as “the assurance (reality) of things hoped for, the conviction (proof) of things not seen.”

The author describes pistis as the “assurance, reality, confidence” (hypostasis) in what we hope for. Pistis is also described as the “proof, conviction” (elegchos) of what we do not see. The examples that follow almost all concern a trust, or belief in the things we cannot see, not so much loyalty or allegiance.

  • 11:3 By pistis we understand that the universe was created by the word of God.
  • 11:7 By pistis Noah constructed the ark
  • 11:8 By pistis Abraham obeyed when he was called out
    • Note here that the author draws some sort of distinction between the source of the obedience, pistis, and the actual obedience.
  • 11:11 By pistis Sarah received power to conceive, since she considered him faithful who had promised.

None of these clarifications work as well with allegiance or loyalty. While I don’t think Hebrews 11 is giving a full-orbed definition of pistis, the author is giving some sort of description of it.

Authors also sometimes clarify what aspect of faith they are speaking of by including a modifier. Twice in Romans (1:5; 16:26) it speaks of the “obedience of faith” (hypakoēn pisteōs). Bates addresses this in the book arguing that most traditional interpreters who hold to pistis as belief or trust argue that the genitive modifier is one of production; it is obedience that comes from faith. But Bates says this is rare category in the Greek genitive and therefore unlikely (83). But the genitive could also be understood as a subjective genitive which is a common category and gets to the same idea.[2]

Additionally, it could be argued that “obedience of allegiance” is redundant and therefore Paul is clarifying what aspect of pistis (fiducia) he is speaking about: it is the obedience that stems from pistis.

Faith and Works

Fourth and finally, although works have an important role to play in salvation, it is hard to get around the fact that Paul at times does oppose faith and works (Rom 3:28; 9:32; Gal 2:16; 3:5). Bates asserts that it is a certain type of works that Paul opposes: works of the law (112). But even if one agrees that “Paul does not oppose works in general; what he opposes are works are a part of a race-based, performance-demanding, rule-oriented system of salvation” (115) then does it makes sense for Paul to oppose performance-demanding works with allegiance? I submit that this confuses Paul’s argument.

Take this example from Ephesians 2:8: ”For by allegiance we are saved and not by works, so that no man should boast.” But if it is by allegiance then we do have room for boasting (at least in the natural English way we use the term). A deep-seated disjointedness seems to exist between the terms for Paul. Is it not more likely that he is saying one is saved by trust in the certainty in God’s promises rather than by works of the Mosaic law?

We must remember that Bates is not arguing that allegiance is always the best way to translate pistis, but is the best macro term for pistis. If (1) the Abraham story does not fit, (2) the antonym to pistis is consistently doubt, (3) the clarifications of pistis don’t work well for allegiance, and (4) Paul does present some sort of opposition between faith and works, then I question whether this is right. My suspicion is that allegiance does not work better.

How the Term Allegiance Hurts

If we turn to a more philosophical discussion of translation theory, then we can also point out how the term allegiance hurts. As students of other languages know well, there are semantic ranges to words and we can’t map Greek or Hebrew words in an exact fashion onto English words.

This cuts both ways. For those who are opposed to Bates proposal, they need to remember that we are attempting to bring over the sense of pistis into the English language. Faith or trust might not map perfectly onto pistis either. As the English language changes, we must be willing to change how we translate things.

But allegiance has its own problems. Allegiance as a gloss of pistis puts the emphasis on what we do. But in the Scriptures pistis is mainly a receptive term, an assurance, a confidence in God’s faithfulness or loyalty to us. So while allegiance might save us from “pure mental assent,” it may also damn us to a “works-based salvation.” Bates explicitly denies this, but there may be unintended consequences.

Read the Book

What I am not arguing is that pistis is mainly mental assent. Allegiance seems to be within the semantic domain, but it is subsidiary not central. No one in the Reformed tradition argues it is merely mental assent. Bates swipes more at pop-evangelical theology than the true historic Reformed tradition. There is certainly a place for that kind of critique, but careful readers should note the distinction and not lump them together.

I still recommend that people read the book. I enjoyed his development of the gospel, agreed with his section on the new heavens and the new earth, and even the part on pistis made me wonder if I had downplayed the loyalty or allegiance aspect of pistis too much.  It made me go back to the Scriptures and examine my preconceptions. In this instance, it ended up solidifying my convictions, but I thought more about nature pistis and for that I am thankful. While this post only scratches the surface, at this point I think the evidence points away from allegiance being the best macro term for pistis.

 

[1] Although see John 3:36, Hebrews 3:19-4:2; 11:31.

[2] 1 Thessalonians 1:3 may confirm this view when Paul says he recalls their “work produced by faith” (tou ergou tēs pisteōs).

About Patrick Schreiner

Patrick Schreiner is Assistant Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Western Seminary. He completed his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy at The Southern Baptist Seminary. In addition to his pastoral ministry experience, Patrick also enjoys writing. You can follow Patrick's journey and his thinking online at his blog, Ad Fontes. You can also follow him on Twitter.

4 thoughts on “Salvation by Allegiance Alone? Part 2

  1. Good and fair article! Great tone.

    Concerning your “Faith and Works” point, it seems to me “allegiance” might still have legs. Perhaps like this: “allegiance” to the law doesn’t save. The problem is not the “allegiance-ing”. God’s law deserves our allegiance. The problem is found in a corruption of the law. Corruption 1 – the law was not given to justify. To expect justification to come by allegiance to it is a corruption of its purpose. A human-centered corruption. Corruption 2 – as Paul points out in Romans 7, “in Adam” the law kills and condemns. So in this case, the corruption of the law comes by the tyrants of sin and death (the “in Adam” stuff).

    Solution to corruption 1: allegiance, not in the law, but in Christ – the God who saves and justifies. Solution to corruption 2: allegiance given no longer in context of “in Adam” (and death and sin), but “in Christ” (and the grace in which we stand). Both solutions, obviously, are made possible by the work of God. But our response in each is allegiance – “pistis”.

    So now take Ephesians 2:8 – ”For by allegiance we are saved and not by works, so that no man should boast.” So “pistis”, for Paul, contains the ideas of both solutions above – so yes this is how we are saved. Why can’t we boast? Because we didn’t provide the solutions – we were caught up in both corruptions. It was God who transferred us (Col. 1:13) into the place where our allegiance is rightfully given to Christ, in grace.

    Just thinking “out loud”…sorry about that.

  2. There are some good points here. I’m perfectly open to Bates’ argument being challenged. But, I read his book closely, and like other critiques, this blog simply isn’t fair to Bates’ argument at all. He handles many of these issues in the book adequately enough. Not all – as I said, this blog makes some good points – but it also makes points that simply do not stand up to scrutiny for anyone that knows Bates’ argument well.

    I have written down at least four major areas where this blog mistreats Bates’ argument, but no one wants my blog length rebuttal, so here is just one example. This blog states, “But if it is by allegiance then we do have room for boasting.” No, we do not – and again – Bates deals with this. We do not have room for boasting because the allegiance we offer is not derived from within us, but from the Spirit, and in our sinfulness we offer it imperfectly, and still need grace and forgiveness at every turn, and God offers it freely as a gift. If we were to boast in our allegiance, God would simply reply “Your allegiance was necessary, but if you think it was based on your own merit, or derived from within yourself, you’re wrong.” Again, this is in Bates. Allegiance is a loyalty that we certainly participate in, but we cannot boast because without God it is impossible.

    The Abraham issue is problematic as well. Bates agrees that Paul sees this as “belief/trust,” but this blog neglects James, which uses the EXACT same example of Abraham and pistis, and says “faith without works is dead.”

    I could go on. I just think that, if people read Bates, there would be ample room to see that this blog doesn’t quite deal with the nuance of Bates’ argument as well as it needs to to refute allegiance as a macro term.

  3. Great article, Patrick. I appreciate your reflections here, your analysis of the Greek and overall desire to draw out a fuller biblical picture of “faith” as you dialogue with Bates. This helps me to reconsider more my concept of “faith”.
    I haven’t read Bates’ book, so these thoughts are mainly on your analysis of the antonym of pistis, namely “doubt”. Your emphasis, if I understand you right, on “doubt”, and by circling back to “faith”, seems to be presupposed by a modernist conception of “doubt” as unable to be convinced of certain knowledge or truths about God and reality. Your emphasis seems to flow into the realm of epistemology. If we start going into epistemology, we are framing “doubt” within modern philosophy, particularly in the West. Here we only deal with the mind, logic and problems of skepticism, objectivity, subjectivity and such. I think the biblical picture of “doubt” is more fuller than just the focus on knowledge, to include existential realities in the heart, the inner spiritual life of a human. In the Hebraic worldview, these are holistically connected to the outer physical life of the human, thus downplaying classic Greek dualism, or at least not holding it as a category altogether. In this way, “doubt” as an antonym to “faith” is going to counter the inner spiritual realities with distrust, lack of loyalty and ultimately covenant unfaithfulness. When we read certain words like what you mentioned connected to “doubt” in those “faith” texts, we have to be careful not to read modernist cognitive sensibilities back into those words. We need to view them in their fuller biblical picture of what faith is as a committed covenantal head-heart-hands holism for all of life.
    When you explain the antonym of “doubt” to faith in Scripture, I expect you don’t mean to totally capture this kind of pure knowledge-based philosophical framework of doubt. However, the way you defined “doubt” as such, seemed to me could open the door to that. I think we need to be careful how we define “doubt” from Scripture, which will influence how we understand “faith” in Scripture. Biblical “doubt” obviously will carry some of those tendencies toward skepticism about knowledge of God and truth, but it is not just that, nor is that the main emphasis.
    (Love to talk more on this in person sometime, if you like)

  4. My initial response to the Abraham issue: is not the cultural understanding of faith and trust built upon relational interaction? Faith is not just belief that God is x y or z, but in a similar picture of marriage, remaining “faithful”?

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