Home » Hebrew Word Study: FAITH (EMONA)

Hebrew Word Study: FAITH (EMONA)

by Dr. Eitan Bar
7 minutes read

In the Hebrew language, the concepts of “belief,” “trust,” and “faith” are intricately connected through the shared root word:

  • Belief = EMONA
  • Trust = EMON
  • Faith = EMONA

That root is also where the word “amen” comes from. This is why when you end a prayer, you end it with “amen,” “I trust.” This linguistic connection highlights the deep interrelatedness of these ideas for native Hebrew speakers, which is reflected in various aspects of life and culture.

In the realm of sports, for instance, a coach might place their faith, trust, or belief in a particular football player, confident in their ability to excel as the team captain or score crucial goals. This trust extends beyond simple expectations of performance, encompassing an unshakable conviction in the player’s potential and dedication to their role.

In a similar vein, during ancient Israelite times, disciples would often put their trust in a teacher-rabbi to provide guidance and mentorship. This relationship was not exclusively centered on matters of salvation or eternal life but rather on the everyday pursuit of spiritual growth and moral development. Throughout the era of the Second Temple Judaism, it was common for Jewish men to choose a teacher-rabbi to follow. This individual was someone they believed in and trusted to lead them as a life coach, taking on the responsibility of guiding them on the path to a life that honors and glorifies God. In other words, they had EMONA in them!

Faith can be understood as a mental assent or agreement to a particular belief or idea. For instance, believing that Elizabeth II was the Queen of the United Kingdom or that one’s parents are indeed their parents requires a simple acceptance of these facts as true.

The Israelites always assumed the God of Israel would save them due to their faith, regardless of their works, which affected their daily lives. The “faith vs. works” argument in Christianity is foreign to the Jewish people. Judaism teaches and believes that “All of the Jewish people, even sinners and those who are liable to be executed with a court-imposed death penalty, have a share in the World-to-Come.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1).

Works and repentance have always been crucial for Jews, as they believed these influenced God’s blessings on them in this world and their rewards in the afterlife. However, they never equated works and repentance with salvation, which they considered to be by faith alone. Later, when John and Jesus called Israel to national repentance, similar to the prophets before them, it was to save Israel from “the wrath of God.” In Old Testament terms, this meant God would withdraw His protection, leaving Israel exposed. In the context of Second Temple Judaism, this implied that Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed, an event that indeed transpired in 70 AD due to Israel’s rejection of Christ. Israel’s failure to repent profoundly affected them—God did not shield them, synonymous with God’s wrath, resulting in their significant banishment and exile from their homeland.

In relation to the Law, it was always about how to live a blessed life, which is why the Law never mentioned anything about salvation or heaven and hell. Of course, some laws had a spiritual aspect, yet the Law was Israel’s constitution, not “a guide to heaven for dummies.” The Old Testament was never about getting saved through works, it was always about EMONA:

“Abram [had] EMUNA [in] the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

“The righteous person will live by his EMUNA.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

In the context of Christianity, EMONA represents a personal, mental response independent of one’s actions, through which individuals are persuaded that eternal life is assured in Jesus Christ by virtue of His death and resurrection. To believe in Jesus is to believe His words and promises. Faith, in this sense, is passive. Just as a child believes their parents are their mother and father without any action beyond acknowledging it as true, Christians accept Jesus’ teachings and promises—including the assurance of eternal life—by taking Him at His word. A child doesn’t have to prove his worthiness by actions. He merely has EMONA in his parents. Faith is the channel through which God saves us. This is also why throughout the New Testament, Jesus consistently offered forgiveness of sins to individuals based on their simple faith:

Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)

This passage highlights the transformative power of faith, as a mental assent, in providing the foundation for forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. The paralyzed man didn’t (and couldn’t) do a thing but believe; have faith in Jesus to save him.

Belief, while a seemingly straightforward concept, can be difficult to implement in practice. In a world where disappointment and betrayal are commonplace, trusting others can be challenging. The disciples of Christ experienced this challenge firsthand as they learned to trust Jesus. Initially, their willingness to follow Him was a simple act of faith, not fully understanding who He was. Had Jesus immediately claimed to be the Son of God, they might have fled, thinking Him delusional. Instead, He gradually gained their trust – increasing their EMONA in Him – by performing miracles, attracting not only the disciples but also other followers, including some rabbis (Matthew 8:19).

Jesus’ name in Hebrew, YESHUA, means “salvation.” To have EMONA in Yeshua [salvation] is to trust/faith/believe He will save you!

However, the connection between believing in Jesus and the concepts of eternal life and salvation was not immediately apparent to the disciples. It wasn’t until the middle of the Gospel of Matthew that Simon Peter finally recognized Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Matthew 16:16). Before this revelation, Simon Peter’s faith and trust in Jesus were limited, viewing Him primarily as a great rabbi-teacher. Consequently, when interpreting phrases like “believed in Jesus” or “trusted Jesus,” it is essential to consider the context.

For example, in Matthew 8:25, when the disciples cried out, “Lord, save us!” they were not referring to eternal salvation. Instead, they were seeking Jesus’ help in saving them from physical danger as their boat was on the verge of sinking (verse 24). Their EMONA in Jesus’s power, wisdom, and ability to protect them from drowning was rooted in the present moment. Do you remember what Jesus’ reply was to them? “You of little EMONA, why are you so afraid?” Having faith in Jesus, in this case, was about trusting Him to literally and physically save. Over time, however, the disciples also learned to trust that Jesus would provide eternal safety, even if they did not fully understand what that even meant. Their faith, though simple and child-like, was enough to experience salvation:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through EMONA—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8)

While people can boast about their achievements, grace cannot be earned or boasted about. It is a free, unmerited gift from God, emphasizing the importance of EMONA and humility.

Interestingly, several centuries ago, John Calvin interpreted the phrase “It is the gift of God” to mean that faith itself was the gift. However, contemporary Greek scholarship largely contends that it is salvation, rather than faith, that constitutes the gift. Faith is a choice of free will. It is up to us if we believe and in what (or who) do we believe. Love cannot be forced upon someone, or else it will no longer be love. In return for our faith (acknowledging God’s love for us through Jesus Christ), God gives us the gift of salvation. This perspective emphasizes the importance of personal choice and commitment in embracing faith and, consequently, receiving the divine gift of salvation.

Faith and Psychology

You’ve probably heard about Abraham Harold Maslow, a psychologist best known for creating the “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” A theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, our most profound need is to feel safe and secure. I believe this need also drives us when we meditate about the afterlife and why we want to make it into Heaven. We want to be safe forever. As we all slowly die, this is what we long for the most and our greatest hope.

In accordance with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and security are fundamental requirements for the emotional and mental well-being of all living creatures. This principle can (and should) also be applied to our faith. It seems fitting that God, who designed our mental and emotional needs, also addresses our deep-seated desire for eternal security. The hope of the gospel is rooted in the assurance of eternal salvation, regardless of the trials and tribulations we face. Jesus, recognizing this essential need, promised complete safety and security to those who believed in Him no matter what happened to their bodies.

Jesus promised, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50). You can only “go in peace” and have true peace in your heart if you have real confidence and assurance that you are indeed saved. Such confidence and assurance are only possible is God’s salvation is free and has nothing to do with your performances.

Children trust their parents will not abandon them, even when they throw tantrums in public spaces. In the same way, our heavenly Father will not forsake us when we experience moments of weakness or doubt. Even faith as small as a mustard seed or as innocent as that of a child is sufficient for God to save. I believe God is looking for any excuse to bring on board as many as possible because His heart is huge and has a lot of space!

The notion that one can lose their salvation fails not only to understand the concept of EMONA but also to fully comprehend the depth of love and compassion that characterizes our loving Father. If God intended for us to live in constant anxiety about our salvation, He would not be described in the Bible as a ‘Father,’ but rather as an ‘Employer.’ Our Father loves us, and His salvation is guaranteed even when we fail or have doubts: “If we are not faithful, he remains faithful, because he cannot be false to himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

Fearing doubt often comes from a misunderstanding of the inherently flexible nature of faith. It’s okay to have doubts; God won’t despise you for it. In fact, EMUNA is a living, flexible thing. If it weren’t, it couldn’t grow. Many faith giants in the Bible grappled with doubt, and their EMUNA grew stronger through it. Without ever experiencing doubt, our faith remains simplistic and superficial. Peter’s journey exemplifies this. One day, filled with EMUNA, he proclaimed his willingness to die for Jesus (Matthew 26:35), but the very next day, he denied Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-75). Reflect on this: Peter denied Jesus three times before the crucifixion, yet after His resurrection, he affirmed his love for Jesus three times (John 21). It was fear of retribution that led Peter to deny Jesus, but it was love that drove him to express his affection for Jesus. Throughout this period, not only did Peter not lose his salvation, but his EMUNA also deepened, albeit through challenges.

But it wasn’t only Peter who lost EMONA. Jesus experienced abandonment by all of His closest friends, those one would expect to stand by Him unconditionally: “Then everyone deserted him and fled.” (Mark 14:50) However, Jesus did not harbor resentment towards them. In the aftermath of His resurrection, Jesus said:

Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me. (Matthew 28:9-10)

Despite their abandonment, Jesus’s first priority after being resurrected was to reunite with them. Notice that Jesus referred to them as His “brothers.” Not “students,” not “friends,” not “those idiots who abandoned me just when I needed them the most.” He referred to them as “my brothers!” a term of endearment and unusual closeness still used in Israel today between close friends in particular. This is especially comforting, as it reminds us that even when we waver in our faith, Jesus remains steadfast and forgiving, never turning His back on us.

In both religious and secular contexts, people often cut ties with those who have wronged them. Jesus, however, defied this common reaction by embracing those who had betrayed Him and seeking their company. He called them “brothers,” demonstrating the true depth of His love and forgiveness.

What about you? Are you willing to look at people who offended and deserted you as your brothers and sisters?

This article was an extract from my new small book,
Lost in Translation: 15 Hebrew Words to Transform Your Christian Faith.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist