Is Biblical faith “blind faith”?

  • Clarifying the question

    a parachute instructor is strapped to a student while falling through the air with their arms out

    Often enough we hear the words “faith” and “blind faith,” and some have treated them as virtual synonyms. But most recognize that blind faith is a particular kind of faith: a blind one. Here we meant to ask: when the Bible uses the word “faith” does it have anything like blind faith in mind? Alternatively put, does the Bible explicitly promote believing specifically in the absence of evidence or even believing in spite of the evidence?

  • What do everyday Christians mean by faith?

    Often critics of various religions are inclined to represent faith as an intellectual vice. For example

    Mark Twain: “Faith is believing what you know ain't so.”1
    Ayn Rand: “Faith is the commitment of one's consciousness to beliefs for which one has no sensory evidence or rational proof.”2

    The most famous advocate in recent years writes:

    Peter Boghossian: “I’ll now offer my two preferred definitions of faith, ...'belief without evidence' ... [or] 'pretending to know what you don't know.'”

    This irked enough believers that it culminated in a now famous radio face-off between Boghossian and Western Michigan University professor Tim McGrew, a prominent epistemologist (philosopher of knowledge). McGrew insisted that even if Boghossian felt Christians had poor reason for belief (such that their faith was irrational), it should not imply that they mean “blind faith.” Most Christians, McGrew insisted, simply mean something analogous to “trust.” The show ended with McGrew suggesting that a large poll be taken, asking Christians and non-Christians what they meant. Boghossian agreed.

    The choice to put the question to both Christians and Non-Christians was strategic—if Christians disagreed with Boghossian, then it would be sufficient to establish that Boghossian was wrong about what Christians mean. But if Non-Christians agreed with Boghossian, it would do more: it would also imply that non-believers at large were perpetuating a myth about what Christians mean. And sure enough, this is exactly what was established. The precise question and results are as follows:

    Do you agree that when Christians use the word “faith” they mean “believing something even though it is not supported by evidence,”

    • 9% say of Christians say “yes”; 91% say “no.”
    • 62% say of non-Christians say “yes”; 28% say “no.”
    1. Samuel Clemens, Following the Equator (1897)
    2. The Virtue of Selfishness (Signet, 1964)
    3. A Manual for Creating Atheists
“No, after all…
  • In the Bible, faith is essentially trust

    Regardless of whether the Bible is trustworthy or complete fiction, the consensus among Christian and non-Christian academics seems to be that the Bible's usage of the Greek word translated faith is intended to mean something akin to trust, not blind faith.1

    The Oxford Companion to the Bible: “[It is a] kind of regard for or confidence in someone or something. … Abram's willingness to trust God… makes him the primary example of the biblical concept of faith.… a form of the Greek word pisteuein, 'to trust'…” [(Oxford, 1993), 222.]
    International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “The main sense of the word 'faith' in the NT is that of trust or reliance. …reliance on the thing or person in whom confidence is put,…” [2nd edition, Ed. by Bromiley (Eerdmans, 1982), 270-271.]

    This corresponds to the Greek word translated faith, pistis (πίστις), which carries with it no notion of being evidentially unfounded.

    1. For an especially well-written articulation, see

      David Clark: “In English, ‘faith’ functions grammatically only as a noun. In New Testament Greek, pisteō, ‘[to have] faith’ or ‘to believe,’ is a verb that denotes personally trusting in, faithfully relying upon, or committing oneself to, a person. Faith is most like the ‘I do’ of the wedding ceremony. It is not primarily a process of thinking or knowing. It is more a promise of loyalty along with a life of faithfully fulfilling that promise” [“Faith and Foundationalism”, in The Rationality of Theism eds. Moser and Copan (Routledge, 2003), 36]

  • Apostles etc. believed because of evidence

    Biblical heroes like Moses, the Apostles etc. had overwhelming evidence grounding their faith (having seen spectacular miracles).1 This is relevant because these same individuals are also known Biblically as great men of faith.

    1. In fact the faith of Israel as a whole was largely grounded in God's miracles, especially the wonders performed in their exodus from Egypt and in the securing of the promised land (e.g. Dt 29:2-9 --  “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his servants and all his land; 3 the great trials which your eyes have seen, those great signs and wonders. …So keep the words of this covenant to do them, that you may prosper; see Josh. 3:7-13, Isa. 7:10-14, Dan. 1:12-15, Mal. 3:10-12). Similarly, we all know the apostles came to believe Jesus resurrected on the basis of his appearing to them (Acts 4:20 -- for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”). Jesus is similarly pleased for them to come to faith in such a way (e.g. Lk 7:19-23 -- John sent them to the Lord [Jesus], saying, “Are You the Expected One"… At that very time He cured many… "Go and report to John what you have ... what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk…”).
  • Apostles etc. gave evidence for belief

    The Apostles etc. used evidence in their evangelism.1 (E.g. Jn 20:31 -- “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ,” cf. 1 Cor 15:1-8). This is relevant because the apostles in doing so overtly undermine blind faith, and yet they would not do things which would sabatoge anyone's ability to haveBiblical faith.

    1. Consider just Paul for a moment. He writes “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor 5:11), and this was done consistently via reason and evidence. For some examples from Acts:

      Acts 17:17-18 -- “So he was reasoning in the synagogue… and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. …Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him.”
      Acts 18:4 -- he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade the Jews and Greeks.
      Acts 18:13 -- “This man [Paul] persuades men…”
      Acts 18:19 -- he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
      Acts 19:26, 29 -- "You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded… a considerable number of people… And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews…”

      Notably, Jews recognized the scriptures as evidence, and in agreeing that it was proper evidence Paul used it as such to persuade the Jews.
      Acts 9:22 -- But Saul kept… confounding the Jews… by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
      Acts 17:2-4 -- …a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence [for Christianity]… some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women."
      Acts 17:11-12 --Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.
      Acts 18:28 -- for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
      Acts 28:23 -- [Paul was] trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.
      When Paul spoke to non-Christians, instead of using scripture (which they did not recognize) Paul would instead bring forward data and considerations that they would recognize as evidencee. As Paul explains
      …so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; …to those who are without law… so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.”
      (Note: Paul here is almost certainly not just referring to the way he lives, but also the way he interacts with these individuals). Luke (in Acts 17) records an example of this behavior by recited an inevitably condensed form of Paul's speech on Mars Hill. In it, we see Paul citing their own luminaries to make his point, followed by an appeal to the evidence for Jesus's resurrection: So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said,
      'Men of Athens, [God] is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.'”

  • Apostles etc. said “use evidence to evangelize!”

    Biblical heroes encouraged people to “critically examine all things ….” 1 This is relevant because this clearly undermines blind faith, and yet the Biblical heroes wouldn't encourage people to do things which would sabatoge their ability to have Biblical faith.

    1. Scriptures demonstrating this abound:

      1 Thes 5:21 -- But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
      Dt 16:22 -- …if the thing [prophesied] does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. …you shall not be afraid of [that prophet].
      Isa 43:9-10 -- Let [alleged prophets] present their witnesses that they may be justified… “You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord, "…so that you may know and believe Men And understand that I am He.”
      Prov 14:15 -- The naive believes everything…, But the sensible man considers his steps.; 19:2 -- it is not good for a person to be without knowledge, And he who hurries his footsteps errs.; 20:18 -- Prepare plans by consultation, …by wise guidance.; 13:16 -- Every prudent man acts with knowledge, But a fool displays folly.
      Mt 10:16 -- be shrewd as serpents; 15:12 -- if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.
      Rom 12:2 -- be transformed by the renewing of your mind [Grk. nous "intellect"],…prove what the will of God is
      1 Cor 13:11 -- When I was a child, I used… think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.; 14:20 -- do not be children in your thinking… in your thinking be mature.
      2 Cor 13:5-- Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!; 2:9 -- [I] put you to the test…
      1 Pet 1:13 -- prepare your minds…, keep sober in spirit…
      Titus 1:8, 13-14 -- loving what is good, sensible,… that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths; 2:2, 5-6, 12 -- be… sensible, …to be sensible, …urge the young men to be sensible;… to live sensibly
      This all falls under the general rubric of acquiring knowledge, which again the Bible has a high view of:
      Eccl 7:25 -- I directed my mind to know, to investigate, and to seek wisdom and an explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness.
      Prov 1:22-21 -- “[Why] love being simple-minded?… hate knowledge?...“they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently but they will not find me, Because they hated knowledge…”
      Prov 4:5 -- Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding!
      Prov 8:10 -- “Take my instruction… And knowledge rather than choicest gold.
      Prov 10:14 -- Wise men store up knowledge
      Prov 15:14, 22 --The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge,... Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed.
      Ps 16:7 -- “Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.”
      Prov 18:15 -- the prudent acquires knowledge, …the wise seeks knowledge.
      Hos 4:6 -- “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge...”
      Rom 10:2 -- they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

“Yes, after all…
  • “Hebrews 11:1 says ‘Faith is assurance of things... not seen’

    It says in Hebrews 11 -- “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. This is relevant because believing in things unseen more or less means believing things blindly (blind faith).

    But wait, all things which are hoped for are unseen, “for who hopes for what he already sees?” (Rom 8:24). Still, countless beliefs are rational and well-evidenced while being unseen and hoped for. For example…

    • that your parachute will work when you jump out of the airplane.
    • That your spouse will be faithful after your wedding day.
  • “Jn 20:29 says ‘[Thomas,] blessed are those who don't see’”

    Jn 20:29 -- “Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘Blessed are they who did not see [me], and yet believed.’” This is relevant because believing in things unseen more or less means believing things blindly (blind faith).

    But wait, couldn't it simply be that…

    • Jesus was stating a simple fact (they would be blessed), not critiquing Thomas.1
    • Jesus was critiquing the stubborn/irrational nature of Thomas's disbelief.2
    1. This is plausible insofar as it is easy to read Jesus as saying, as paraphrased:

      Adam Clark: “thou art now happy - fully convinced of my resurrection; yet no less blessed shall all those be who believe in my resurrection, without the evidence thou hast had” [The Holy Bible, vol. 5 (B. Waugh and MT. Mason, 1833), 627.]

      1 Pet 1:8 -- “and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”

    2. This is plausible insofar as
      • Jesus repeatedly told his followers he would rise after repeatedly substantiating his claims with divine miracles, and
      • The apostles were straightforwardly testifying to Thomas that Jesus had appeared to them alive from the dead (testimony which was likely amplified by Thomas's knowing of the empty tomb). He was just being stubborn. As noted by one historian:

      Marcus Bockmuehl: “What is ‘doubting’ (apistos) about the Fourth Gospel’s Thomas is not his desire for facts but his emphatic refusal to trust the apostolic testimony: ‘unless [I see and touch him], I will not believe’ (John 20.25, 27, 29).” [The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (Cambridge, 2001), 11.]