Has the word believer always had the meaning of believing in God or has it picked up that meaning somewhere along the line ?

When I say "I am a believer", without further context, does it just mean I believe in God ? Similarly, when I say "I am a nonbeliever", without further context, does it just mean I do not believe in God?

  • 11
    There is always context
    – Jim
    Nov 19, 2022 at 4:42
  • 13
    There is the song "I'm a Believer" by the Monkees where the singer believes in love. Nov 19, 2022 at 15:43

3 Answers 3


The word believer has always had the meaning "someone who believes in a god or have a religious faith" as it is the earliest sense of the word. This is the usual sense unless otherwise specified within a context.

Here is the definition of the earliest sense of the noun believer and the earliest citation from OED:

1. Theology. A person who believes in a god or the doctrines of a religion; esp. a Christian. Sometimes: spec. a member, esp. a fellow member, of a particular Christian group.
See also Old Believer n., right believer at right adj. 6c.

a. Without construction.

?a1425 (▸a1415)    Lanterne of Liȝt (Harl.) (1917) 5 (MED)    Þe feiþ of trewe bileuars.

b. With in, †on; also of or possessive.

1530    G. Joye in tr. M. Bucer Psalter of Dauid f. 215    He promysethe his helpe to ye belevers in him.

Here is the definition of the second sense of believer and the earliest citation of this sense from OED:

2. A person who believes in the truth, accuracy, reliability, genuineness, virtue, value, or efficacy of a thing or person.

a. With in, of or possessive, that.

1596    T. Nashe Haue with you to Saffron-Walden To Rdr. sig. C4v    I protest I doo not write against him [sc. Harvey] because I hate him, but that I would confirme and plainly shew to a number of weake beleeuers in my sufficiencie, that I am able to answere him.

b. Without construction.

1646    Sir T. Browne Pseudodoxia Epidemica 115    That a Brock or Badger hath his legs of one side shorter then of the other,..an opinion..received not only by theorists and unexperienced beleevers, but assented unto by most who..behold and hunt them dayly.

  • 2
    No it doesn't - this is simply incorrect. The dictionary definition makes it clear that if you are talking in a specific theological context, then you might be able to assume that if both sides know this context. In any other context, you need to state what it is you think you believe in.
    – Graham
    Nov 20, 2022 at 9:31
  • 3
    @Graham It is not clear what you are objecting to. I've already mentioned both senses of the word. The original sense is the usual usage unless used otherwise. There will always be a context in a conversation of course. However, if I just hear "I am a believer" from someone; I would understand it as the original sense, someone who has a religious faith. Additionally, I'm answering an etymlogy question as well.
    – ermanen
    Nov 20, 2022 at 9:47

If you do not specify what you believe in, your interlocutor will assume that you mean you believe in God. The surrounding context will confirm that. When you look up believer, most hits will refer you to religious contexts. You need to specify what you believe in, either in the sentence itself or in the larger context, if you are to avoid ambiguity.

Here are some examples:

The steward, however, being a believer, turned the conversation, before the young student was aware of it, to spiritual things; and yet he could not say that it had been forced. (The Life of Trust, George Muller)

Here God is not mentioned, but definitely implied.

Here is an example with the other meaning, which is listed first in some dictionaries:

If you are a great believer in something, you think that it is good, right, or useful.

  • Mum was a great believer in herbal medicines. (Collins)
  • a firm believer that party politics has no place in local government (OxfordL)
  • 3
    I would add that this is very culturally contextual. In many Western countries, it might mean Christianity, but if you're asked "are you a believer?" in an Arab state, there might be an assumption of Islam. (And the word can be used in other more or less generic senses: do you remember the song, "then I saw her face -- now I'm a believer!")
    – equin0x80
    Nov 19, 2022 at 9:39
  • Hi, I like your answer very much but since my question is "Has the word believer always had the meaning of believing in God" and ermanen's answer answered to that directly "The word believer has always had the meaning ..." I would accept his answer. I am sorry. Nov 19, 2022 at 10:27
  • 1
    No worries. I am grateful for the opportunity to research for the question.
    – fev
    Nov 19, 2022 at 10:38

Then I saw her face, now I'm a believer

You are wrong on both counts. The word "believer" does not now mean, nor has ever meant, faith in a God or Gods. It simply means that you think something is true, generally without hard evidence of that truth.

In a conversational context where the subject is religion, naturally you don't need to say what you believe in, because all parties understand that context. In other contexts it is quite likely that you would need to state what you believe in. Most obviously, in a monotheistic context you probably need to specify whether it's the Christian God, the Mormon God, Allah, Y-hw-h, Xenu, or Kim Jong-Un.

  • "You are wrong on both counts" , I don't know the answer and that was why I asked the question. And apparently your answers contradicts with the other answers I got. Nov 20, 2022 at 13:12
  • This answer is unsupported and unnecessarily combative versus the other answerers. It would help to provide evidence that "believer" "does not now or has ever meant, faith in a God or Gods" especially when one of the other answers exactly shows that it did. Perhaps you meant, not exclusively? Furthermore, beside quoting one song, additional examples of where "believer" unqualified by context doesn't imply some form of religious faith would enhance the answer
    – eques
    Nov 20, 2022 at 18:24
  • I was serious with my question but I can't help but see the frivolousness of the answer. Nov 21, 2022 at 4:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.