I want to know what is the difference between belief and faith from a Protestant perspective. Can anyone explain this to me?

  • I am curious how you mean the question. Faith, belief, and trust are all translated from the same root in Greek, some form of 'pistis'. Unbelief, doubt, etc, are all derived from the same with the prefix a-. In light of this, are you looking for a Biblical answer, or a general answer, which often overlooks the Biblical identity? That is, are you looking for general protestant opinions about the difference, or protestant Biblical answers from an orthodox biblical take?
    – user16825
    Dec 9, 2014 at 23:41

8 Answers 8


The understanding that I am most familiar with - a Protestant understanding, if it matters, is that "belief" is an intellectual belief, while "faith" is a matter of trust that leads to action.

This can be summed up in an illustration of Charles Blondin, a tightrope walker who asks a crowd if they believe that he can safely walk a wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Many in the crowd ask who believes that he can do this, and of course, most say that they do. Then he asks who is willing to get into the wheelbarrow. Only those whose "belief" reaches the point of faith will get in.

This is similar to how it's explained by many, many, Christian groups, and while I can't claim that the understanding is universal, it is quite common. For example, The Feral Apologist has an article explaining the difference here. They put it like this:

How are we, as Christians, to understand our faith? We need to first discover the meaning of the word “faith” in the Bible, and how that meaning is somewhat different from the meaning many attach to it today. To avoid the cultural baggage associated with the term, let’s look at the Greek words that are used in the New Testament and translated as “faith.” There are three primary forms of this word in Greek, the noun form pistis, the adjective form pistos, and the verb form pisteuo. Each form’s meaning is a variant of the word “trust.” Hence pistis is “a trust” in someone or something, pistos is “trusting” as applied to someone adjectivally, and pisteuo literally means “I trust.” It is important to keep this in mind because we have often misunderstood these words (translated as “faith”) in our culture to be, not variants of the word trust, but variants of the word belief, used in an intellectual sense. It is true that some places in scripture, such as James 2:19, the verb form is rightly translated as “believe” because of contextual issues and what James was trying to accomplish. In other places, such as John 14:1, a variant imperative form of the verb is translated as Jesus’ exhortation to “trust” in him. When we encounter the word “faith” in scripture then, our default understanding should be that it means “trust.”

Faith Baptist Church, in New jersey also uses the Blondin story in one of their devotionals on the subject. The devotional says this:

The historical stunts of Blondin help us understand what it means to have "faith". First of all, faith is not mere intellectual assent. If anyone in the crowd truly believe that Blondin could cross the raging Niagara with someone in the wheelbarrow, he or she would have volunteered to ride along. "Faith" always means that we are really trusting someone or something. "Faith" is more than the words of mental assent as the words that were shouted by the crowds lining the shores of Niagara. To say, "We believe" means that we believe not only with our head, but with our heart and our wills. Faith means that we believe that God can do what He has said and that we believe it so thoroughly that we are willing to fully act upon it. Faith does not mean that we believe God can do it, but that God can do it with us in that "wheelbarrow".


I don't know that everyone uses these words consistently, but, by connotation, it's quite possible to believe in God's existence without having faith in God (having absolute trust in God). I believe the government exists, but I don't have faith in the government (trust in it to do the right thing in all circumstances).


In Greek, they are the same: πίστις. Ideally, you'd want to know what the ancient Hebrews understood by the word אמונה, and what the ancient Greeks understood by the word πίστις.

  • 2
    When that Greek word is transliterated into English, it is pistis. It's the same word for belief and faith. We can get a online definition of the Greek term here: blueletterbible.org/search/Dictionary/…
    – Steve
    Oct 27, 2013 at 20:26

Chronologically, belief comes before faith. As Christ taught us in John 3:16 "... whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."

This belief is the beginning of our following Christ. But as a believer, not yet as a disciple. After the believer spend enough time in the Scriptures (just like Christ did when He was little, just like Paul did after he was converted from Saul the Christian hunter), God the Holy Spirit who dwells inside the believer empowers him/her to start having faith in Him through Christ.

Only then, the believer can become a disciple, growing daily in his faith, which is manifested in increased appreciation, understanding, and capacity to love God (and subsequently fellow human beings). Eventually, the disciple will approach what is called the state of 'teleos' (in Greek) or being a mature or complete Christian.

  • Didn't Saul the Christian-hunter have, even before his conversion, a quite thorough knowledge of the Scriptures as they then existed, i.e., the Old Testament? Nov 26, 2013 at 20:25
  • Indeed, he was one of the prodigy in Torah and Talmud (they do not call it Old Testament). And that was why he regarded this Christian movement as an aberration to the Jewish Mesianic tradition, hence he became a Christian-hunter. But when the Lord called him in Damascus, he became aware of the reality of Christ's authority. That was the turning point when he decided to follow Christ instead of the Jewish tradition he held so dearly before. God sent him as the first missionary to the Gentiles. And we (non Jews) today is the beneficiary of his life testimony.
    – Will
    Nov 27, 2013 at 15:20

There are some things for which it may be better to go to the dictionary than Scripture. The use and meaning of words is one, just so we know we are all talking about the same thing. In discussing religion we need to be careful of our use of the words thought, belief, trust, knowledge, faith and hope. I have put together the following after comparing the etymologies and general use of the words, and hope it is of use.

I Hope …, I think…, I believe…, I trust…, I know…, have a definite order but the position of faith is less obvious. Faith is harder to place and often confused with the others.

Thought can be used as a noun from the past form of the verb think, meaning a conscious adjustment or association in the brain, or as a verb referring to something, as in I thought it was the best thing to do or I think it will rain today. In this way it is used as holding something to be possible rather than certain. There is a tendency to mistake it for ‘belief’ but I think God exists is weaker than I believe God exists.

Belief (be-lief = hold-dear) is often said to mean faith but one person may believe a thing and have faith in it, while another believes the same thing but has no faith in it. You can believe a man is a plumber but have no faith in him or trust him to do your plumbing.

Knowledge (gnosis, allied to constant - con - ken - can - canny) is often said to be the enemy of faith, as though having evidence for something leaves no room for faith. And yet it is possible to say, ‘I can prove that I am married but my faith in my marriage, or marriage in general, does not depend on that.’ One can even say, ‘I know [from whatever evidence one accepts] that there is a God but I have no faith in Him.’

Trust (allied to truth - troth) is the basis of most of our dealings in life: family, business, or pleasure. We may feel we need to be protected by rules, and take care to watch our backs, but we really live our lives on a basis of trust. We cannot do otherwise, yet in association with religion, trust is often replaced disparagingly by 'blind faith', but faith is then being used wrongly. There is no need to use trust for secular life and blind faith for religion. It would cause less misunderstanding if blind faith was dropped and trust used for both. Trust is not the same as faith although they are allied. Trust is something we can both have and do. Faith is something we can have but not something we do. Trust is sometimes used instead of hope, ‘I trust the weather will be good enough for a picnic’ but there is an unspoken 'because' - it implies high hopes.

Hope has always been there (almost unchanged from Anglo-Saxon times hopa) - ask Pandora. Sadly the confusion with trust above can be misleading.

Faith (fideo | fidelity) Alone of these words faith cannot be made a verb. We can say I think, I believe, I know, I trust and I hope, but we can only have faith. It is a possession, something to be gained. It is often used to mean belief but you can believe something but have no faith in it. When you do or follow something faithfully, you do so to the letter. Faith is an absolute. Its absence is a real absence.

I may hope God exists, think God exists, believe, even know God exists, and still have no faith in him. I may have faith in God but not trust Him (because I cannot tame Him!) but if I have faith in God then the others become redundant. Faith has no place in the order of these words. It is absolute, over-riding them all.


As far as Protestantism is concerned Belief is based on some sort of evidence such as belief in the Bible. Faith on the other hand is trusting in things not seen.

To Believe that the Bible exists is based on whether or not the book really exists.

To have Faith that the Bible is God's word is not based on it's existence, but on a personal choice not proven in any Material form.

To belong to Hinduism, or Islam, or any other Religious affiliation is Belief, and to live in the precept that only believing that Jesus death on the cross will get you to Heaven is Faith.

  • The answer can be greatly improved if you can list the sources with which you used to derive your answer or conclusion. If you happen to speak for your own denomination, please list your denomination here. Thank you for your cooperation.
    – Double U
    Jan 26, 2014 at 22:49

What is the difference between Belief and Faith?

What is often left out of a discussion of faith is its relation to truth and hope and that there is a work of God in our faith.

We know that God has to perform a work in us to enable us to come to Jesus.

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

We might surmise that this work entails some ability to respond to truth.

John 18:37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

We know that the demons "believe" in God.

James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

Here the word believe (pisteuō) is similar to the word for faith as it involves trusting. Here the demons trust that God exists, is powerful, and that they are destined for his punishment.

What the demons are missing is that component of trusting that comes directly from God.

Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

With Jesus as the "author" of our faith, we see an element of the ability to recognize truth as well as appropriate it as a drowning man clutches at a straw.

2 Timothy 1:12 For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Faith has a component of hope. As we grow in faith, we growth in truth which helps us to see in greater clarity the evil in this world, our own humble position, as well as the greatness of God which results in our growing gratitude for his giving us this precious gift of faith. Tied to our faith is our hope and expectation that we will be rescued from this world.

Our faith is more than just "trust". It carries within it our connection with God, our hope in his promises, our protection from the world, and it even acts as an umbilical cord carrying our new life from God.

1 John 5:4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.


From Protestant Philosopher, Gordon Clark, comes the following: "The crux of the difficulty with the popular analysis of faith into notitia (understanding), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust), is that fiducia comes from the same root as fides (faith). Hence this popular analysis reduces to the obviously absurd definition that faith consists of understanding, assent, and faith. Something better than this tautology must be found".

Faith and belief are synonyms in the dictionary. What differentiates beliefs is what the object of the belief is. Thus Muslims believe the propositions of the Koran to be true. Christians believe the propositions of the Bible to be true. Hindus the propositions of Vedas. Atheists believe certain propositions to be true from Marx. etc.

Thus for example, the historic Protestants of the Presbyterian fold would have believed the propositions of the Bible to be true, as expanded in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Historic Reformed Baptists would have believed the propositions of the Bible to be true, as expanded in the 1689 Baptist Confession. Congregationalists likewise.

To misquote a famous saying "to believe or not to believe, that is not the question". What you believe to be true is what matters as delineated by the historic Protestant examples above. Hth

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .