This entry is part 65 of 89 in the series: Troublesome texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Matthew 24:34 – This generation will not pass away?
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Ephesians 5:23- ‘The head of a wife is her husband’
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:15 – ‘Saved through child-bearing’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
Scholars (e.g. Leon Morris, Dictionary of Paul and his Letters) tell us that the Greek word ‘pistis‘ usually means ‘faith’, but can occasionally signify ‘faithfulness’. The distinction is an important one, not least because it has a bearing on how relevant texts are interpreted in relation to the ‘New Perspectives on Paul’.
An example of a text in which ‘pistis‘ probably carries the meaning of ‘faithfulness’ is Gal 5:22 – ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is…faithfulness’. Rom 3:3 clearly refers to “the faithfulness of God,” not “faith in God”, and Rom 4:12 equally clearly refers to “the faith of Abraham,” not “faith in Abraham.”
In passages such as Rom. 3:22, 26; Gal. 2:16; 3:22; Phil. 3:9, where English translations consistently have ‘faith in Christ’ (or equivalent), N.T. Wright consistently reads, ‘the faithfulness of Christ’ (or equivalent).
We can agree with Wright that the theme of Christ’s faithfulness to the Father is prominent in the NT (Carson mentions John and Hebrews, together with Phil 2:5-11 and the Gethsemane narrative in the Synoptics). We might add Rom 5:19. However, it is less clear that this is the meaning of the ‘faith/faithfulness of Christ’ passages. For Wright, the Bible tells the story of ‘God’s “righteousness” (more-or-less God’s “covenant faithfulness”) in sending Jesus to function as the faithful Israelite who goes to the cross and is vindicated by His Father, such that all who are in union with Jesus, Jews and Gentiles alike, are constituted God’s covenant people’ (Carson’s summary).
It is not that anyone is saying that Wright is completely mistaken. He denies neither the substitutionary atonement of Christ nor the necessity of faith on the part of the believer. The problem, as succinctly stated by Moo, is that Wright’s scheme foregrounds the Bible’s background, and backgrounds the Bible’s foreground.
Romans 3:3 is an interesting one:- ‘What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?’ Of the three mentions of ‘pistis’ in this verse, the first two are translated ‘faith’ in the NIV, and the third is (correctly) translated ‘faithfulness’.
More difficult are passages such as Romans 3:22:- ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.’
(a) Some think this means ‘through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to all who believe’. This view has been championed by Richard Hays and others.
This option reminds us that Christ certainly was faithful to the Father, and that believers are called and enabled to be faithful too (see Gal 5:22 again).
This rendering, ‘through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’ would be consistent with, say, Rom 5:18f, which speaks of Christ’s act of righteous obedience. This alternative view, it is claimed, rescues the present verse from a tautology – ‘faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’. But this is not necessarily the case: what we have here may not be a redundancy at all, but a case of repetition for the sake of emphasis: ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ—to all who have faith in him’. So Carson.
Wright reads this verse as follows: “God’s covenant justice comes into operation through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah for the benefit of all who have faith.” ‘This,’ he writes, ‘answers exactly to the sequence of thought in 3: 1– 5. Israel’s privilege was to be entrusted with the divine oracles; that is a way of summing up the vocation spelled out in 2: 19– 20. But Israel had been “faithless” to that commission, putting in question the divine “faithfulness” (3: 3) and the divine “truthfulness” (3: 4); but God will be seen to be dikaios, true to his covenant justice, despite it all (3: 4b– 5).’ (The Day the Revolution Began)
(b) The traditional view is that the correct reading is ‘through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.’
I am not competent to evaluate the linguistic arguments, but the flow of Paul’s thought in these chapters in Romans seems decisive in favour of this view. ‘As Dunn has noted, it is telling that if Paul wished to draw attention to the faithfulness of Christ, he missed some opportunities. In Romans 4, for instance, it is the faith of Abraham that is the model, not Christ’s faithfulness’ (Morris)
It is true that pistis can occasionally mean ‘faithfulness’, Rom 3:3; Gal 5:22. In Rom 3:22,26; Gal 2:16,20; 3:22; Php 3:9 it is possible to read ‘the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’ rather than ‘faith in Jesus Christ’. However, Dunn notes that if Paul wished to draw attention to the faithfulness of Christ, why did he not do so in Rom 4, where in fact the model is Abraham, not Christ. (See art. ‘Faith’ in DPL)
In favour of the NIV translation, Kruse remarks that v22 can be regarded as an expansion of v21, where Paul says that the righteousness of God has been revealed ‘apart from the law’, with the implication that this righteousness comes by faith in Jesus Christ.
Douglas Moo (New Bible Commentary) says that although the first option is a possibility, ‘the idea of Christ’s faithfulness’ (expressed with the word pistis) is not clearly attested elsewhere in Paul, while this whole section of Romans focuses again and again on the centrality of human faith in Christ for justification (see especially v 26 at the end of this paragraph). Paul, then, repeats the notion of human faith in v 22 because he wants to say both that God’s righteousness comes only by faith in Christ and that it comes to everybody who has such faith. V 23 is a succinct summary of 1:18-3:20.
The traditional translation is supported by a number of factors, including the exposition of Abraham’s faith in ch. 4. ‘Paul introduces Abraham because he is a paradigm for the Roman Christians, and he is pragmatic because he obtained righteousness by faith. It seems quite unlikely that Paul would emphasize in such detail that Abraham was righteous “by faith” in Ro. 4, whereas in Ro. 3 he would say that we are righteous by “Jesus’ faithfulness.” Just as he emphasizes that Abraham was right with God by faith in Ro. 4, so too in Ro. 3 he stresses that Christians are justified by faith.’ (Thomas Schreiner, JETS, Dec 1998)
This verse is also important in the discussion:-
We…know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
Some scholars think that this should be understood as a subjective genitive (‘the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’) rather than an objective genitive (‘faith in Jesus Christ’). Both are grammatically possible.
Martyn: ‘Recent decades have seen extensive discussion of the matter, sometimes even heated debate; and the debate has demonstrated that the two readings do in fact lead to two very different pictures of the theology of the entire letter. Is the faith that God has chosen as the means of setting things right that of Christ himself or that of human beings?’
Many earlier translations, from Tyndale onwards (and including the AV), translated, ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’. But this may simply be a question of usage, the expression being an archaism for ‘faith in Jesus Christ’.
Among recent EVV and commentators, the subjective genitive is supported by NET, ISV, Longenecker, Martyn, Wright, Garlington (who refers to a ‘growing consensus’ on this view)
NET: ‘we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.’
Wright: ‘we know that a person is not declared ‘righteous’ by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. That is why we too believed in the Messiah, Jesus: so that we might be declared ‘righteous’ on the basis of the Messiah’s faithfulness, and not on the basis of works of the Jewish law. On that basis, you see, no creature will be declared ‘righteous’.’
Advocates of the New Perspective on Paul tend to understand pistis Christou (faith of Christ) to mean Christ’s faithfulness to the divine plan for Israel, not faith in the Messiah. See note on Rom 3:22.
deSilva (who does not support this view) suggests that there are three main arguments in favour of it:
- It maintains the supposed parallelism between ‘the faith of Jesus’ (Gal 2:16) and ‘the faith of Abraham’ (Gal 3:6-9). But the parallelism is not between Abraham and Christ, but between Abraham and the believer.
- It avoids the apparent redundancy in the traditional interpretation, according to which the believer’s faith is mentioned three times in a single verse. But this verse is replete with repetition anyway: if there can be three mentions of justification apart from the works of the law, there can just as easily be a matching trio of references to a believer’s faith.
- It is in keeping with Paul’s unambiguous use of the subjective genitive in Rom 3:3; 4:12, 16. But, in the case of ambiguous grammatical constructions, context is key, and the contexts differ between the two passages.
Schreiner, in his commentary on that Epistle, outlines why some accept the subjective genitive (‘the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’). These include:-
- In Rom 3:3 “the faith of God” (τὴν πίστιν τοῦ θεοῦ) clearly means “the faithfulness of God.”
- In Rom 4:12 the phrase in context refers to “the faith of our father, Abraham” (πίστεως τοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν Ἀβραάμ).
- If one takes the genitive as objective, “faith in Christ” is superfluous since in the key texts (e.g., Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16; Phil 3:9) Paul already mentions the need to trust in Christ.
- The “faithfulness of Jesus” is another way of referring to Jesus’ obedience, which was necessary to achieve our salvation (Rom 5:19; Phil 2:8).
- The coming of “faith” refers to redemptive history (Gal 3:23, 25), designating the faithfulness of Christ at the key point in salvation history.
- The focus in Paul’s theology is the work of God in Christ, not the human response of faith.
The objective genitive is supported by NIV, TNIV, ESV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, NLT, NKJV, Good News, deSilva, Schreiner, George, Cranfield (on Romans), Garlington, and Dunn.
Garlington, in a commentary expressly written ‘from the New Perspective’, points to a ‘growing consensus’ in favour of the ‘subjective genitive’ view. ‘This reading is attractive in many ways; and it is undoubtedly true that the NT does represent Jesus as the man of faith, especially in the Gospel temptation narratives and the Letter to the Hebrews (see the first section note to v. 16). Nevertheless, it is doubtful that this single phrase in Paul could bear that much semantic freight.’
Garlington explains: ‘With the advent of Jesus the Messiah, the only legitimate faith is that which finds its repose in him, the one who is “the end of the law” (Rom 10:4). At one time, faith assumed a nationalistic bias and was meaningless apart from the devotion of the believing Israelite to the Torah, the expression of God’s covenant will for his people. But now that the “dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:15) has come down in Christ, faith latches specifically onto this one who has accepted all the nations without distinction (Rom 1:1–7; 15:7; Eph 2:17; Acts 2:39). This reading that Christ both defines faith and is the object of faith is confirmed by the second clause of v. 16: “Even we have believed in Christ Jesus” (the first two clauses of the verse could be looked upon as a kind of synonymous parallelism), and v. 20b: Paul lives by “faith in the Son of God” (tou huiou tou theou is clearly objective genitive).’
‘While the faithfulness of Jesus Christ is a prominent theme in Paul’s theology (cf. the kenotic hymn of Phil 2:5–11), what is being contrasted in Galatians is not divine fidelity versus human fickleness but rather God’s free initiative in grace versus human efforts toward self-salvation. Thus when Paul spoke of faith as essential for justification, he was thinking of the necessary human response to what God has objectively accomplished in the cross of Christ.’ (Timothy George)
Preferring the objective genitive (‘faith in Christ”) Schreiner adduces the following reasons:-
- The genitive object with “faith” is clear in some instances (Mark 11:22; Jas 2:1).
- A genitive object with other verbal nouns shows that an objective genitive with the verbal noun “faith” is normal grammatically: e.g., “knowledge of Christ Jesus” (τῆς γνώσεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, Phil 3:8). Therefore those who claim that the genitive must be subjective fail to convince.
- The texts that use the verb “believe” in a verbal construction and the noun “faith” with the genitive are not superfluous but emphatic, stressing the importance of faith to be right with God. Readers hearing the letter read would hear the emphasis on faith in Christ, and thus this interpretation is to be preferred as the simpler of the two options.58
- Paul often contrasts works and human faith in his theology. Therefore, seeing a polarity between works of law and faith in Christ—both human activities—fits with what Paul does elsewhere.
- Nowhere does Paul in speaking of Jesus Christ use the word “faith” (πίστις) to describe his “obedience.”
- The salvation-historical argument fails to persuade as well. Certainly, Gal 3:23, 25 refer to the coming of faith at a certain time in redemptive history. But such an observation hardly excludes faith in Christ, for faith in Christ becomes a reality when he arrives and fulfills God’s saving promises. We should not pit redemptive history against anthropology.
- Nor is the emphasis on faith in Christ somehow Pelagian, as if it somehow detracts from God’s work in salvation. A human response of faith does not undercut the truth that God saves, particularly if God grants faith to his own (Eph 2:8–9).
Fee (in his commentary on Galatians), also favours the objective genitive. In support of this, he cites Mark 11.22, where exete pistin theou, would have clearly meant ‘have faith in God’, not ‘have the faith of God’.
In addition to the works cited, see also this article by D.A. Carson.