If I were to ask how many times the word faith appeared in the bible, one might say “hundreds of times,” and that is correct. Now if I asked how many times the word faith appeared in the Old Testament alone, one might still respond “hundreds of times.” Fascinating and even shocking at first is the fact that the word faith can be found only twice in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 32:20; Habakkuk 2:4). The New Testament makes use of the word 232 times (KJV), what a contrast! With these statistics one might hypothesize that the Old Testament does not deal with the subject of faith. However, the New Testament says otherwise.
The New Testament is the great witness to the faith vastly contained within the Old Testament text. The Books of Romans and Galatians are witnesses to Abraham’s faith in God (Romans 4:9; 19-20; Galatians 3:7). And Hebrews chapter eleven is undoubtedly the greatest witness of the existence of faith in the Old Testament. Never in the Old Testament is the word faith used in reference to Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, but Hebrews eleven makes the matter clear that all of these individuals walked by faith.
Perhaps another great witness of faith in the Old Testament is Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” This would include all men and women from the books of Genesis through Malachi who heard the word of God and were obedient to it, in other words, they had their faith in God.
So the question of “why” remains. If the Old Testament text is filled with men and women living by faith, why then is the word faith almost non existent throughout the text? I will suggest two reasons which I will state here (remember these are only suggestions, I do not know the exact reason).
The first reason I suggest for the lack of the word faith in the Old Testament is to make a distinction between the Old and New Testaments, and between the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ. Galatians 3:22-29 elaborates on this point, making statements such as “the Scripture” (i.e. the Old Testament) “has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Following this, we find statements like “before faith came,” and “the faith which would afterward be revealed,” and “after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (the tutor being the law of Moses). It is clear that the word faith used in this text denotes salvation through Jesus. There was nothing in the Old Testament text that could save the soul (Heb. 10:4), but salvation was revealed in Christ. So it seems that the bible does not begin utilizing the word faith until salvation came to man through faith (in Jesus Christ). Abraham’s faith is nothing without the blood of Christ, nor is the faith of anyone else in the Old Testament. If Christ never rose from the dead, their faith (as well as ours) is futile (1 Corinthians 15:17). Isn’t it fascinating that the word faith is used of these ancient men and women only after the blood of Christ has washed away their sins? Therefore, the word faith is not applied in the Old Testament toward these individuals so that it is unmistakable that their salvation did not come from any other source until the Jesus of the New Testament text arose (consider Galatians 3:11; 2 Timothy 3:15).
The Second reason the word faith is not penned all over the Old Testament text might be because it simply is not necessary! James exemplifies this point in James 2:17-18, “…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James challenges those who say “I have faith in God” to prove it by their actions. His point is evident, it does not have to be said of a person that they have faith in order for them to have faith. James said “I will show you my faith by my works.” Without the word faith ever being said, one can see the faith of another by their acts of obedience to God’s word. In Hebrews chapter eleven, for example, we find a great list of deeds from the Old Testament times, which never before were labeled works “by faith” even though they always were “by faith.” Every righteous deed in the Old Testament flashed before my eyes when I hear James say “I will SHOW you my faith by my works.” And may we follow in the same example of faith and works.