The Case Against Karen Armstrong: What is Belief?

In my last post I discussed how Karen Armstrong misrepresents some of her sources. The end result is a sort of ‘cherry pick’ to support her thesis. In this post I’m going to address her treatment of the word “Belief” as used in the Bible.

What Does “Believe” Mean?

Several years ago I did a study of the New Testament using several parallel Bibles, Strong’s Concordance, and a Greek manuscript of the New Testament. One of my discoveries was that the word translated “belief” in the New Testament actually came from the Greek word pisteuo (Strong’s 4100) which has a stronger connotation than the word “believe” in English, at least as it is used today. So consider this verse as an apt example:

Romans 3:22

22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

The word actually means something more like what we modernly mean when we say “faith,” “trust,” “commitment,” or “loyalty.” So this verse, far from saying we can just intellectually accept Jesus Christ died for our sins, actually meant we need a deep commitment to His atonement, death, and resurrection.

I made a study note that the Protestant ideas about these verses were actually a mistaken based on how words had changed meaning over time.

However, I’m not sure we can strictly say it’s a ‘mistranslation.’ After all, the word ‘believe’ still carries such a connotation in some contexts. For example, if I say “I believe in you” I am not suggesting I intellectually assent that you exist; I am saying something some thing far stronger than that.

Does The Bible Teach the Apophatic Method?

Karen Armstrong takes this same fact but, through careful context, manages to make it seem like the word “pisteuo” suggests her apophatic method whereby we obtain religion through orthopraxy and practice instead of actually literally believing anything.

Essentially, her technique is one of context. She starts with the idea that ancient religions were about practice and changed with the needs of the people (ignoring the fact that most likely they were believed quite literally) and then springs on us the fact that actually the Bible never did teach one is saved by intellectual assent. Therefore, she leads the reader to believe, it must be that the Bible people were like the other ancients who (she claims) never intended any of it literally but just saw it as a mysterious practice to improve our lives.

I cry foul!

How anyone could read Paul and think he was in any way shape or form implying anything but literal belief when he said this:

1 Corinthians 15:14

14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

Armstrong is, through a false context, suggesting to her readers a meaning for the word  “pisteuo” something very nearly the opposite of its actual meaning. Rather than implying something stronger than ‘belief’ she makes it mean mere loyalty and commitment to certain ritualistic practices.