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Protestante Digital

Andrew Messmer

Credere Deum, Credere Deo, Credere in Deum: Three ways to believe in God

The question “Do you believe in God” has been understood in three different ways since antiquity:

FEATURE AUTOR 185/Andrew_Messmer 19 DE ABRIL DE 2020 11:00 h
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“Do you believe in God?” Often times, when we hear this question, we think that it is an intellectual one, i.e., “Do you believe that God exists?” This default understanding of the question is the result of at least two factors.

First, the cultural factor: since the Enlightenment, the West has been very interested in facts and evidence, and thus belief in God is understood as whether there are any good arguments for his existence.

Second, the linguistic factor: since English has lost its case system, it has lost its ability to nuance statements that other languages have, such as modern German and classical Greek and Latin.

Sometimes English can compensate for this loss with other components within the language, but not everyone makes the effort to do so.

What I would like to do in this article is explain that the question “Do you believe in God” has been understood in three different ways since antiquity:

1) belief that God exists,

2) trust in God, and

3) entrusting one’s self to God.

While our main preoccupation in the West has been on the first one, Scripture is much more interested in the last. Since Augustine,1 it has been customary to divide these three kinds of belief according to their Latin phraseology, and I will do the same here.2



Credere Deum: to believe that God exists. This kind of faith in God mentally affirms that God exists. This is the kind of faith of in James 2:19: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe, and shudder!” (ESV).

This is nothing more than the intellectual recognition that there is a God, and that he exists. Again, this has been the primary occupation of the West since the Enlightenment and is what most people spend their time debating.

Scripture does not address this issue very often simply because it assumes that God does exist, and rather calls us to a higher level of belief in God. I am not saying that this kind of belief in God is unimportant, but rather that it is only the first step of what God wants from us.

Credere Deo: to trust in God. This kind of faith in God believes that what God says is true. A good example of this kind of faith is Genesis 15:6: after God tells Abraham that he will have many descendants, Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (ESV).

God speaks, and we as humans believe him. As can be seen, this faith goes beyond merely recognizing at a mental level that there is a God, and actually trusts that what he says is true.

Credere in Deum: to entrust one’s self to God. This kind of faith includes the previous two kinds, but it also goes beyond them. The underlying Greek and Latin constructions are just as awkward as a literal English translation would lead us to believe: to believe into God.

This kind of faith refers to the personal commitment of one’s self to God, and thus the usage of entrusting one’s self to him. This kind of faith is found primarily in John’s writings, and never refers to mental assent or belief in a message, but rather to belief into the Father or the Son.3

For example, in John 3:18 this kind of belief shows up twice (and implicitly a third): “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (ESV).

Augustine puts it this way: “What then is ‘to believe into Him’? By believing to love him, by believing to esteem highly, by believing to go into him and to be incorporated in his members.”4 In other words, this kind of faith is a total and willing surrender to God.



Despite our modern understanding of what belief in God means, Scripture is actually interested in a different question. In Christianity, the issue is not so much whether or not we think there is a God, but rather if we are willing to believe him and to entrust ourselves fully to him.

In other words, “belief” in Scripture is not located in the mind as much as it is in the will: belief is more volitional than it is intellectual.5 Interestingly, the Apostles’ Creed begins with this type of belief in God, and it becomes its organizing principle.

To confess “I believe in God the Father… and in Jesus Christ his Son… and in the Holy Spirit” is to say that one surrenders, entrusts, commits one’s self fully to God. The only question left to be asked is: Which of these three kinds of faith do you have in God?



Th. Camelot, “Credere deo, credere deum, credere in deum por l’histoire d’une formule traditionelle” Revue des Sciences philosophiques et thEologiques 30 (1940-1941): 149-155.


1 Cf. Augustine, Comm. John 29:6 (NPNF1 7:185); Comm. 1 John 10:1-2 (NPNF1 7:520-521); cf. John Chrysostom, Hom. John 69:1 (NPNF1 14:254). For others in the Patristic and Medieval ages who employed this distinction, cf. Camelot’s article (see below).

2 I have researched the underlying Greek equivalents in the New Testament, and it is obvious that Augustine’s scheme is not completely accurate. The three Greek constructions are as follows: credere Deum = pisteno+ oti: credere Deo = pisteio + dative (no preposition, épi, én); credere in Deum = pisteno+ eis + person. While there does appear to be some difference between the various constructions, at least the first two have instances where the meaning ranges from mental assent to salvific belief. What is interesting, however, is that, except for two possible exceptions (see below), the third construction always refers to salvific belief. For a potential subtle distinction between the second and third types of belief, cf. Jn 6:29-30.

3 Of the 40 occurrences of pisteno + eis, there are only two possible exceptions: Rom 10:10 (but the verb is in the passive voice, and thus negates the thrust of the preposition eis) and 1Jn 5:10 (where partiria cannot be too far removed from God’s self-revelation).

4 Augustine, Comm. John 29:6 (NPNF1 7:185).

5 In fact, I would go so far to say that belief into God is roughly synonymous with loving God as a child loves his or her father.




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