From observing the “noise level” about the terms “Christian assurance” and “assurance of salvation” in some circles, one would expect to find the New Testament liberally salted with references to this word. Its appearance on the “search” lists indicates the likelihood that some folks are looking for ammunition to use in these battles. Well, people, you’re not going to find it in a careful word study.
The English word “assurance” only appears nine times, in any form, even in traditional translations. Once each, it is a (mis)translation of pistis (see W.S.#1) Ac.17:31 – against 239 renditions as “faith”, which isn’t much better – and pistoomai , II Tim.3:14, a verb form which has only a single New Testament appearance. Once – I Jn.3:19 – it is used for peitho (against 22x “persuade”, 8x “trust”, and 7x “obey”– W.S.#88) ; once – Ac.2:36 – for asphalos (against 2x for an arrest!); and once for sumbibazo –Ac.16:10 – where it does not parallel any of the four other uses of the word.
Four times it was the choice for plerophoria, the only word for which “assurance” is the only — or even the primary – traditional translation: Col.2:2, I Thes.1:15, Heb.6:11, and 10:22, in each of which “confidence” or “conviction” would suit just as well.
Not a single reference contains either a threat that some inadvertent misstep will cause one to “lose”, or a guarantee that, having once been sufficiently frightened to “raise his hand” in a “revival”, one will be permanently protected from ever “losing” his “salvation” (W.S.#5). Both caution (Heb.3:13-14) and reassurance (I Jn.3:19-21), are present, however.
So since responsible word study simply doesn’t have a dog in that fight, and since the concept of assurance, also labeled certainty, confidence, and “being sure”, is abundant, I invite you to lay down your weapons, and feast instead on the veritable banquet of encouragement that the Lord has provided for us. You can find additional studies on this subject in W.S.#1, pistis, and #36, elpis.
Plerophoria, mentioned above as the only word consistently rendered “assurance” by traditional translators, is classically defined as “certainty, fullness of assurance, complete satisfaction”. In the Colossians passage, Paul connects it to “an accurate understanding of God’s mystery, Christ”, which is developed as a result of “your hearts (being) encouraged and knit together in love” – the interaction of a congregation of Kingdom citizens. In I Thessalonians, he adds “miraculous power, and the Holy Spirit” as grounds for this “firm conviction”. His concern is the same as that expressed by Luke in his introduction, (using the verb form in 1:1, and asphaleian in 1:4), to convey the absolute certainty and veracity of the message of Jesus.
A similar idea is approached from a different angle by the use of peitho, only once rendered “assurance”, but 26x connected to “persuasion”. These are about evenly divided between attempts to convince someone (Mt.27:20, 28:14, Lk.16:31, 20:6;Ac.13:43, 14:19, 18:4, 19:8,26; 21:14, 26:28, 28:23, Rom.5:11), and expressions of confidence (Ac.26:26, Rom.8:38, 14:14, 15:14; II Cor.2:3, 5:10; Gal.1:10; Phil.1:25, 3:3; II Thes.3:4, I Tim.1:5, 12; Phm.21, Heb.6:9,11:13). The same word is used in other contexts regarding obedience (#88) and trust (#1).
Asphaleia, asphales, and asphalos, referring about equally to physical security (including arrest – Mk.14:44, jail – Ac.16:24, and the sealing of Jesus’ tomb – Mt.27:64,65,66) and certainty about facts (Ac.2:36, 21:34, 22:30, 25:26; Phil.3:1), are similarly divided in their classical usage: “safety, caution, legal security, steadfastness, soundness, (opp. risk)”.
Turning to the traditional word “sure”, we encounter a variety of terms, also.
Bebaios, classically “firm, steadfast, steady, durable, guaranteed, confirmed”, is used in reference to the promise of God (Rom.4:16, Heb.2:2, 9:17), the words of prophecy (II Pet.1:19), our hope/expectation of the fulfillment of both (Heb.3:6, 3:14, 6:19), and our own calling (II Pet.1:10) which latter is not automatic, but requires effort/ “diligence”!
Stereos, “firm, solid, solidified, settled”, is applied to God’s foundation (II Tim.2:19), constancy in faithfulness/loyalty (I Pet.5:9), and the “solid food” (Heb.5:12,14) intended for mature disciples.
Both ginosko (Lk.10:11, Jn.6:69) and oida (Rom.2:2, 15:29, Jn.16:30) – usually rendered “know” (W.S.#29) – are rarely rendered “be sure”.
“Confidence” represents tharrheo, “to be of good courage, to be unafraid, to be confident” (II Cor.5:6, 5:8, 7:16); pepoithesis, “trust, confidence, boldness” (II Cor.1:15, 8:22, 10:2; Eph.3:12, Phil.3:4), hupostasis , “origin, foundation, substructure, confidence, courage, resolution” (II Cor.11:17, 9:4, Heb.1:3, 11:1, 3:14), and parrhesia, “outspokenness, freedom of speech, liberality, lavishness, freedom of action, without fear”.
A treasured element of citizenship in the Athenian democracy, parrhesia appears in the New Testament with two traditional translations – another case where it is important to remember that “confidence” and “boldness” are the same word.
Boldness is not arrogance or self-promotion, but simply the confidence that is born of identification with the Kingdom! “Confidence” in the Lord to whom we belong (Ac.28:31, Heb.3:6, 10:35; I Jn.2:28, 3:21, 5:14) is the source of the “boldness” with which we may approach both the Lord of Glory himself (Eph.3:12, Phil.1:20, I Tim.3:13, Heb.4:16,10:19; I Jn.4:17), and others in his name (Ac.4:13,29; 9:29, 14:3, 18:26, 19:8).
Consequently, having followed brother Luke’s example and gotten our facts straight, and realized the resources cited by brother Paul of the power of the Holy Spirit and the support of fellow Kingdom citizens, we may live confidently in genuine “Christian assurance.”
“Let’s approach him (Jesus, our high priest), with a true heart, in abundant confidence, [or, complete faithfulness]” (Heb.10:23)
“Let’s hang on to our commitment to [acknowledgment of] our hope [expectation] without hesitation – for the one who made the promise is faithful!” (v.23)
Thanks be to God!