Sigurd Grindheim, «Faith in Jesus: The Historical Jesus and the Object of Faith», Vol. 97 (2016) 79-100
Did Jesus call his followers to believe in him? or did he merely call them to believe in God or in the contents of his teaching? This article examines the evidence found in the Synoptic Gospels and discusses its possible Christological implications in light of the Scriptures of Israel and the writings of Second Temple Judaism. If Jesus expected to be the object of his disciples’ faith, his expectation may be understood in light of his redefinition of messiahship. But he may also be seen to have placed himself in the role of God, who was the object of Israel’s faith in the Scriptures of Israel and in Second Temple Judaism.
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Faith in Jesus 81
i. mark 9,42
in the synoptic Gospels, there is only one saying in which Jesus
explicitly makes reference to people believing in him. that is the mill-
stone saying, which is preserved in all three synoptic Gospels. as it is
found in mark 9,42, the nRsV renders it: “if any of you put a stum-
bling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would
be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and
you were thrown into the sea”.
this is the clearest example of Jesus understanding his own person
as the object of his disciples’ faith. in most of the other synoptic say-
ings in which Jesus calls people to believe, he does not specify the ob-
ject of their faith. in mark 1,15 the object is the gospel, and in 11,22
it is God. in mark 11,23-24 par., Jesus calls his disciples to believe
“that what you say will come to pass” and “that you have received ...
whatever you ask for in prayer”. he also censures the chief priests, the
scribes, and the elders for not believing John the Baptist (mark 11,31
par.), the point being that they did not believe in his message.
When the object is not specified, the sense is often that people be-
lieve that Jesus has power and authority to perform a miracle. in the
story about the healing of the centurion’s son, Jesus tells him that it
will happen to him according to his faith (matt 8,13 par.). the faith
the centurion has expressed is a faith that Jesus has authority; in this
case that must be understood as an authority to command diseases
(matt 8,8-9 par.). When Jesus heals the two blind men, he responds to
them in the same way: “according to your faith let it be done to you”
(matt 9,29). they have also just confessed their faith that Jesus is able
to make them see (matt 9,28). in the stilling of the storm, Jesus re-
bukes the disciples for their lack of faith (mark 4,40 par.). this lack
of faith can only refer to their assumption that Jesus was not doing
anything to help them from perishing (mark 4,38). they did not an-
ticipate the miracle he would perform. the faith Jesus calls for is to
believe that he has power over the forces of nature. in the case of the
blind Bartimaeus, he expresses his belief not only that Jesus has mir-
acle-working power, but also that he is the son of David, which may
be understood as a messianic title (mark 10,46-52 par.) 4.
in some of the miracle-stories, the petitioners’ faith appears to go
4 see further R. schnacKenBuRG, The Moral Teaching of the New Testament
(trans. J. hollanD-smith – W.J. o’haRa; new York 21967) 36-37; J. JeRemias,
New Testament Theology (trans. J. BoWDen; london 1971) 162-164.