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Markan Faith


According to many accounts of faith—where faith is thought of as something psychological, e.g., an attitude, state, or trait—one cannot have faith without belief of the relevant propositions. According to other accounts of faith, one can have faith without belief of the relevant propositions. Call the first sort of account doxasticism since it insists that faith requires belief; call the second nondoxasticism since it allows faith without belief. The New Testament (NT) may seem to favor doxasticism over nondoxasticism. For it may seem that, according to the NT authors, one can have faith in God, as providential, or faith that Jesus is the Messiah, or be a person of Christian faith, and the like only if one believes the relevant propositions. In this essay, I propose to assess this tension, as it pertains to the Gospel of Mark. The upshot of my assessment is that, while it may well appear that, according to Mark, one can have faith only if one believes the relevant propositions, appearances are deceiving. Mark said no such thing. Rather, what Mark said—by way of story—about faith fits nondoxasticism at least as well as doxasticism, arguably better. More importantly, the account of faith that emerges from Mark is that faith consists in resilience in the face of challenges to living in light of the overall positive stance to the object of faith, where that stance consists in certain conative, cognitive, and behavioral-dispositional elements.

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  1. I exclude The Longer Ending (16.9–20). See Metzger (1971, pp. 122–126).

  2. I use the number/title/text system in Aland (1985). I exclude 14.3. It uses pistikos as “very”, as in “very expensive nard ointment”, or “pure” as in “expensive pure nard ointment” (cf. Morgan 349n7; Rhoads et al. 2012, p. 33).

  3. Of course, faith appears in Mark’s story outside of the pistis pericopes. For example, 1.15 is the only place that states the content of the gospel and the desired response to it. Some see in this “summary statement” a literary device. Instead of repeatedly stating the content and desired response, Mark expects the audience to recall them when he says Jesus preached or taught. This gospel/pistis duet “reverberate[s] throughout the narrative” some twenty times (Marshall 1989, pp. 38–39; cf. Hedrick 1984; Hartvigsen 2012, p. 127); also see my comments below on Matthew’s and Luke’s treatment of the Syrophoenician woman and the woman at Bethany, as well as my comments on the faith of Jesus.

  4. “Bartimaeus serves as a model…since he calls out with a persistent faith” (Williams 1994, pp. 152, 159).

  5. Williams (1994, p. 100): the four “have a trust in Jesus that is expressed by their determination to overcome any obstacles in order to reach him”. Cf. Black (2011, p. 90); Guelich (1989, p. 85, p. 94); Marcus (2000, p. 220.)

  6. Soranus, Gynecology 3.10 “knew of physicians that prescribed bloodletting(!) for women’s hemorrhaging” (Black 2011, p. 140, citing Dowd 2000, pp. 57–58).

  7. The father’s cry exhibits the fact that “one of Mark’s leading convictions about faith [is that] it proves its reality by perseverance under testing” (Marshall1989, p. 121). Cf. Iverson (2007, p. 117).

  8. In all three stories of parents and children, “the parent perseveres in spite of the temptation to give up” (Marcus 2000, p. 365).

  9. What is the content or object of the woman’s faith? In GMark, perhaps by anointing Jesus’s head, she expressed her faith in him as her Messiah and king, symbolically prioritizing him and his message. In GLuke, perhaps her emotional display and Jesus’ response suggest that she had faith in him as one with authority to forgive sins.

  10. For much more on diakrino, see DeGraaf (2005).

  11. Black (2011, pp. 244–245) sees the theme of v 23 as “trust in God’s power to overcome unconquerable obstacles”.

  12. Morgan (2015, p. 18), my emphasis. Others suggest the belief lexicon is optional in translating the pistis lexicon in Mark, and use the trust and faith lexica instead. See Marshall (1989, p. 33); Collins (2007 passim); Rhoads et al. (2012, pp. 11–38, p. 108).

  13. Given that Marshall (1989, p. 33) grants that the belief lexicon is optional in translating the pistis lexicon in Mark, it is puzzling that he insists that “all Christian conceptions of faith have in common an unavoidable ‘belief that’ basis,” in addition to trusting obedience, and that “Mark sees [belief and trust] as inseparably bound together under the general conception of faith. For Mark, faith is rooted in belief” (1989, 56). However, the puzzle disappears when we see Marshall using a variety of other words/phrases as synonyms for ‘belief that’—acceptance (pp. 48, 49), intellectual assent (p. 49), giving credence (p. 51), purely cognitive belief (p. 52), intellectual acceptance (p. 54), mental acceptance (p. 54), intellectual ‘belief that’ (pp. 54, 98), minimum conviction (p. 55), a minimum of belief (p. 56), hope (pp. 97, 129), inner confidence (pp. 98, 110, 129, 130), cognitive perception (p. 100), intuitive apprehension (p. 129)—some of which (in italics) are compatible with nondoxasticism. Note also Marshall’s conflation of “intellectual” and “rational” with propositional belief (pp. 55–56).

  14. See the items referenced in the first paragraph of this essay.

  15. Donahue and Harrington (2002, p. 79) describe the father’s cry as “one of the most memorable and beloved statements in the NT because it captures the mixed character of faith within the experience of most people”. Cf. Marshall (1989, p. 121); Nineham (1963, p. 244); Williams (1994, p. 141).


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For discussion and help with the thoughts and arguments of this paper, thanks to Steve Alves, Greg Bechtel, Steve Bilynskyj, Doug Bunnell, Austin Carlton, Nolan Cheney, Jon Fedele, Sandy Goldberg, Matthew Handy, Frances Howard-Snyder, Hud Hudson, Sara Koenig, Linda Kolody, Andrew Law, Christian Lee, Dan McKaughan, Sean Mittelstaedt, Dee Payton, Michael Rea, Georgia Senor, Terrah Short, Neal Tognazzini, Dale Tuggy, Ryan Wasserman, and Dennis Whitcomb. A grant from the Templeton Religion Trust supported this paper; the views expressed in it are my own.

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Howard-Snyder, D. Markan Faith. Int J Philos Relig 81, 31–60 (2017).

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  • Faith
  • Pistis
  • Belief
  • Resilience
  • Gospel of Mark
  • Jesus