The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

Did Jesus Himself Have Faith?

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The Bible calls us to faith. Many Christian thinkers have seen faith as a moral virtue. At the same time, the Bible pictures Jesus as our moral exemplar. He’s the example after whom we should model our lives. What’s curious is the Bible never says that Jesus had faith. It would be odd if our moral exemplar lacked this primary Christian virtue.

Did Jesus have faith?

One may be lead to think Jesus did not have faith. This, I think, could be plausibly argued for. I don’t think it follows merely from the fact that the Bible never says Jesus had faith. This would be an argument from silence and we need to be careful in basing a claim on silence. A position like this should be motivated, I think, by other considerations. Ultimately, the issue seems to turn on what we mean by faith.

One of the most influential figures in the history of Christian theology, Thomas Aquinas, saw this. He said:

Faith…implies a certain defect…and this defect was not in Christ. And hence there could be no faith in Him (ST, ch. 9: ques. 7: article 3).

I would certainly agree that if faith implied a defect, then Jesus did not have faith since, as Christians, we are committed to a sinless Christ. But it’s not clear to me that faith necessarily implies a defect. What is the defect? For Aquinas, it is the lack of directly beholding God. Faith, for Aquinas, was a way of having knowledge of religious matters without direct experience of those things. We do not directly behold God–that is, he is unseen–therefore, we must know God by faith. Faith, he thought, was the for things unseen in his reading of Heb. 11:1. Unlike us, Aquinas thought Jesus had a kind of direct vision of God throughout his earthly life such that religious matters were not unseen for him. He didn’t have this defect or this lack. So faith was unnecessary for Jesus.

What is faith?

Now if Aquinas was right that faith is a way of knowing and this way is necessitated because of a lack or defect, then surely it follows that Jesus did not have faith. I just don’t think Aquinas is right here. As I’ve argued before, even though there are a number of epistemological issues related to faith, I don’t think faith is an epistemology. That is, on my view, faith is not a way of knowing.

The gist of the view is that faith is a form of active or, what I call, ventured trust. It is where we stake our faith or trust in some object. I venture my life on the well-functioning of an airplane…but only when I get on board. This is analogous to Christian faith except that I venture my life on the person of Christ and truths of the gospel. Epistemology comes into it precisely because I need to know who (or whom) I should trust. Evidence should guide us to those things that are worthy of our ventured trust.

Jesus indeed had faith

But if faith is ventured trust, then it seems Jesus is a paragon of faith. We see, in Christ, a full and whole life ventured in trust on the reality of God. Again, even if Jesus had a direct view of God, then this in no way counts against his having faith understood as ventured trust. In fact, if Jesus had a direct view of God, then this would provide him with ideal reason to trust. Jesus could rest certain (literally) in the trustworthiness of God.

A benefit of this view is it avoids the awkwardness of saying Jesus is our moral exemplar but except for faith. It seems much more plausible to think of Jesus as our model for all the virtues.

Evidence is important

Seeing evidence as important for faith is, I think, good news because evidence matters for most areas of our lives. Why should our Christian beliefs be any different? With this understanding, if someone has doubts or questions, then they should investigate the evidence. In other words, investigating is not somehow inconsistent with having faith. It is, in my view, part of what it means to pursue the knowledge of God.

What do we find when we investigate the evidence? Do we have reason to venture our life on the reality of God? I and many others find the evidence very compelling and have given our lives to it.

[Related post: The Risk of Doubting One’s Faith]

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