All God Asked of a Jailer in Philippi

Conversations About God 3:2

Seeing trust as a central issue in the universe helps explain Paul’s very brief reply to the jailer in Philippi. An earthquake brought down the doors of that jail (Acts 16:25-26). The jailer was afraid that the prisoners had escaped, in which case he himself would be executed. But when Paul called out to him, he ran in and fell down at the feet of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:27-29). He then brought them out of the jail and earnestly inquired, “What must I do to be saved?” At least “What must I do to be safe?” Paul did not reply, “If you have the time, I have 20 lessons for you. As we sit here in the rubble of the jail, I’ll lead you through the doctrines of the church.” No, all Paul said was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” So we need to clearly understand what Paul meant by that word translated “believe.”

We often go to great lengths to explain the difference between belief and faith. Of all the illustrations I’ve heard to explain the difference, the one that impressed me the most was the story of the man who strung a cable over Niagara Falls. A preacher described how a crowd watched the man crossing over the Falls on the cable, pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him. Upon his return, he turned to the crowd and said, “Do you believe I can do that again?”
A man in the crowd replied, “Yes, I believe you can.”
“Then climb into my wheelbarrow.”
“Not on your life!” said the spectator.
The preacher telling the story would then say, “You see, he believed he could make it across, but he didn’t have faith.”

The difference between belief and faith matters in the English language, but there is no such difference between belief and faith in the Bible. There is only one word for both and that word is pistis. You see, the original conversation between the jailer and Paul was in Greek. And that’s the reason these Bible versions read differently.

Let’s look at Acts 16:30, 31 in several versions. The first reading is from the King James Version (KJV): “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.'” But in the New English Bible (NEB) it reads, “Put your trust in the Lord Jesus. . . .” The Berkeley version has; “Have faith in the Lord Jesus. . . .” All three translations are based on exactly the same Greek word. In English the word pistis means belief, faith, trust, confidence. And the versions vary, just for variety.

Among these options, we’re most familiar with the word “faith.” As Christians we talk about it a great deal. But what is faith? What do we mean when we say to a person “Have faith,” or “You should have more faith,” or, “We’re saved by faith,” or, “Righteousness by faith”? Faith means so many different things these days that we almost need another word. The most notorious definition of faith is the one given by a small schoolboy. He said, “Faith is believin’ what you know ain’t so.” You see, in some people’s minds, if you’re prepared to believe what “you know ain’t so,” that’s real faith.

Now, most of us wouldn’t go that far. But we might say, “Faith is believing something for which you have insufficient evidence,” because if you had sufficient evidence, you wouldn’t say “I accept that by faith,” you would say, “I know.” Does that mean that the more we come to know God, the less faith we’ll have? When we actually stand in His presence will we say, “God, I see you now, and that’s the end of my faith? I’ll never believe in you again, because now I know you”?

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