An (ancient) introduction to “faith in Christ” vs. “Christ’s faith”

Originally inspired by this recent post by Doug Chaplin, I exhumed a paper I wrote in third year Greek while an undergrad (I estimate this to be c. 2000-2001). As a segue between my last post and my next, I thought I’d present it here with minimal edits. Please realize that the scholarship within this is a good decade behind, but given the modesty of the claims in this overview, I sincerely doubt that much of what is argued below has been soundly defeated.

The interpretation of Iesou Christou as an objective genitive (faith in Jesus Christ) in Galatians 2.16 and 3.22 (cf. Php 3.9) is the overwhelmingly pervasive reading of that construction. Fairly recently, however, scholarship has had to come to terms with the work of many scholars such as Richard B. Hays, who argues most strenuously that our modern fixation on the freedom of the individual conscience distorts Paul’s concerns. In his article, “Jesus’ Faith and Ours” (Theological Students Fellowship Bulletin, 7 No. 1 [S-O 1983], 2-6), Hays argued that nowhere in Galatians 3 does Paul place any emphasis on the salvific efficacy of “believing,” and nor does he speak of Jesus Christ as the object of human faith. Paul insists that we are redeemed/justified by Jesus Christ’s faithfulness (pistis Iesou Christou) on our behalf, not by our believing.

What must be demonstrated to make this minority view plausible?

The case for the subjective genitive interpretation (faith/faithfulness of Christ Jesus) is grammatically the most obvious. BAGD notes that translating the genitive as “in” is possible with reference to pistis, but acknowledges that pistis is usually found without an object. Moreover, translating the genitive as “of” is most commonly preferable with most other words. Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when pistis takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Matt 9:2, 22, 29; Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:20; 7:50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42; 22:32; Rom 1:8; 12; 3:3; 4:5, 12, 16; 1 Cor 2:5; 15:14, 17; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 2:17; Col 1:4; 2:5; 1 Thess 1:8; 3:2, 5, 10; 2 Thess 1:3; Titus 1:1; Phlm 6; 1 Pet 1:9, 21; 2 Pet 1:5). Douglas Campbell, an advocate of the subjective usage, has been accused of being too dogmatic or dramatic by Brian Dodd, who has sympathies with the subjective camp, because Campbell makes the statement that how we take Paul’s usage of pistis Christou Iesou might “open up the possibility of a major reevaluation of Paul’s . . . theology as a whole.” However, Hays in both the article mentioned above and his dissertation, The Faith of Jesus Christ, highlights the significance of this alternative translation when he makes the statement that in Galatians, Paul insists we are justified by Christ’s faith/faithfulness, not our believing.

Much research and study has gone into this debate, with conservative scholars even delving into the ranks of those who see Christ’s faith/faithfulness as Paul’s intended meaning in such phrases as dia pisteos and ek pisteos, even in passages where the specifier Christou Iesou is not present. The likeliest loci for this scenario are Romans 1:17 and 3:25-26.

Romans 1:17 is Paul’s quotation of Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous one shall live by faith/faithfulness.” Campbell took this statement as Messianic, so better to be translated, “The Righteous One shall live by His faithfulness.” One could still argue for the faithfulness of Christ being the basis for life (rather than believing faith on the part of the believer) if one takes the “righteous one” to be any number of people who now have the opportunity to live rather than a reference to Christ, and therefore, “The righteous one shall live by His faith/faithfulness.”

Paul in Romans 3:25-26 states, as the New English Translation translates it, “God publicly displayed him as a satisfaction for sin by his blood through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness,” or ek pisteos Iesou. This passage shows the value of such an interpretation: Jesus was put on display as a satisfaction for sin by his blood through faith (dia pisteos); in other words, Jesus was capable of demonstrating God’s righteousness in being publicly displayed because Jesus had faith or was faithful, not because of our faith in Him.

This concept is similar to that in Galatians 3:13-14, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’) in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith.” Longenecker’s commentary on Galatians discusses Paul’s paradigm of Abraham’s faith and our justification by looking at the perception of Jewish writers concerning Abraham’s faith/faithfulness. Jewish scholars tended to view Abraham’s extreme faith and faithfulness as being their very salvation, much as the Church of Rome would much later come to proclaim with the idea of “works of supererogation.” In other words, Abraham’s merit was so exceedingly worthy of God’s favor that those who are Abraham’s seed are worthy of God’s favor by virtue of Abraham’s merit. Another common picture was that of Abraham’s ten trials through which he remained faithful. If one sees Paul’s use of the term pistis in this passage as referring to Christ’s faith being that wih which we must be identified for justification, a faithfulness that was consistent enough even to submit to being cursed by hanging on a tree, then we see that it is Christ’s work of supererogation that justified Abraham and therefore us as well. Galatians 2:16 contrasts those who seek to be justified by works of the Law and those who seek to be justified dia pisteos Iesou Christou. Instead of the common translation of being “justified through faith in Jesus Christ,” read “justified through Jesus Christ’s merit,” or “Jesus Christ’s work of supererogation” (which means, after all, “a work above or beyond”). This merit can be seen by his death, being publicly placarded as Paul reminds the Galatians in 3:1. Jesus’ obedience unto death providing for redemption is also strongly demonstrated in Romans 5:19: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous.”

The case is, then, rather strong for the belief that the faith that we stand upon is not our own, but that of Jesus, upon whose merit alone we may hope to be justified.


I just came across this bibliography devoted to this topic. I used a few of those sources for my paper, although inexplicably the copy of the paper that I have doesn’t show them.

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