The Biblical word faithful occurs in seventy eight verses of scripture. It is a rendering of four related Hebrew words, one Aramaic and one Greek. At least in the Old Testament the word is closely related to believe which is also a rendering of the same Hebrew words. The object of this paper is to explore the meaning behind the word faithful on both Testaments.
'âman (H539) is the root that underlies all the words translated faithful in the Old Testament. The word was examined at length under the heading of 'Believe'. It means to support or confirm: it is used literally of a pin holding a door and of someone nursing a child. It can also mean to deem someone as being that supporting or trustworthy. It is the first and commonest Hebrew word translated faithful occurring twenty times. However faithful is not the commonest rendering of 'âman, it is rendered believe or a derivative twice as often. Other related words are sure(11), establish(7), trust(4), verified(3) and nursed(2).
'emeth(H571) is a contraction of'âman and is rendered faithful on two occasions. As a noun it means truth; Brown, Driver and Briggs state that as an adverb it means truly. In my opinion the two uses that are rendered faithful are using it as a noun but in the English is appears as an adjective and thus 'true' would work. 'emeth is rendered truth(90), true(18), truly(7), right(3) and then faithful(2). It is clear that truth is the primary facet of faithfulness required by this adjective.
'êmûn(H529) is the much rarer masculine noun derived from 'âman. The three occasions it is rendered faithful it is being used as an adjective and in context is related to the veracity of a witness of messenger. The meaning is trusty or reliable. The only two other occasions it appears in the Hebrew it is rendered faith or truth.
A noun derived from 'âman that occurs three times rendered faithful is 'ĕmûnâh (H530). In contrast 'emeth to which emphasizes truth 'ĕmûnâh emphasizes the firmness, steadfastness and steadiness of the action. It is rendered faithfulness(18), truth(13), faithfully(5), set(5) and others rarely.
The Aramaic word rendered faithful is 'ăman (H540) which is clearly closely related to the Hebrew 'âman and has the same meaning. It occurs thrice in scripture, all in Daniel. Once it is rendered 'believe', once 'faithful' and once 'sure'.
The Greek behind the word faithful is much simpler and far more common. Pistos (G4103) is rendered faithful on fifty occasions; no other Greek word is rendered faithful. Pistos only occurs sixteen other times and usually as a derivative of believe. The definition given of Pistos is also intriguing in that it defines a triangulation point between 'âman, 'emeth and 'ĕmûnâh. It speaks of someone who has shown themselves trustworthy in the execution of duties. It can also refer to one that is trusting rather than trustworthy.
We therefore see that in the Old Testament the word faithful is a relatively broad term that may emphasize the supporting nature of the action, its persistence or its veracity. The New Testament sharpens the term considerably by blending the three aspects: requiring someone proven to be reliable and trustworthy in and by the execution of a given action.