100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive
Posted by NT Wrong on December 15, 2008
Over the next few weeks I will be posting excerts from my forthcoming book, 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive. The book was originally submitted to the Very Short Introductions series as Pistis Christou: A Very Short Introduction. However, after its unconditional and, frankly, unkind rejection from OUP (“We believe the topic could only possibly be of interest to a half dozen or so people who obviously don’t get out enough”), I have been forced to seek an alternative publishing route (TBA).
Why πίστις Χριστοῦ? The debate over the meaning(s) of the phrase might at first appear to be a rather esoteric, subtle, and arcane grammatical dispute, involving a mere eight occurrences of the phrase in Paul’s “genuine” epistles, to wit:
- διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (“through faith[/fulness] in [/of] Jesus Christ”; Rom 3.22);
- ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ (“by faith[/fulness] in [/of] Jesus”; Rom 3.26);
- διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (“through faith[/fulness] in [/of] Jesus Christ”; Gal 2.16a);
- ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ (“by faith[/fulness] in [/of] Jesus”; Gal 2.16b);
- ἐν πίστει … τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ (“by faith[/fulness] in [/of] the Son of God”; Gal 2.20);
- ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (“by faith[/fulness] in [/of] Jesus Christ”; Gal 3.22);
- διὰ τῆς πίστεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ (“through faith[/fulness] in [/of] Christ Jesus”; Gal 3.26, only in manuscript P46);
- διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ (“through faith[/fulness] in [/of] Christ”; Phil 3.9).
- also: Eph 3.12; 4.13
At the grammatical level, the essence of the problem is whether the phrase πίστις Χριστοῦ is:
1. subjective, referring to a personal attribute or action of Christ (“the faith, or faithfulness, of Christ”) that achieves salvation, or
2. objective, referring to the profession and orientation of “faith in Christ”, by which an individual can be identified as ‘saved’, or
3. (but less popularly) some other genitive meaning, eg attributive.
The subjective genitive would primarily refer to the faith of Christ (to Christ’s salvific work of faith(/fulness)), whereas the objective genitive would primarily refer to the faith of the one who is ‘saved’ (to their human faith in Christ).
Yet it becomes clear that the dispute is bigger than mere points of grammar. Most of these phrases occur in passages which are central to Paul’s theology (Rom 3-4 and Gal 2-3). The topic is central to our interpretation of how Paul understood salvation. And Paul’s ideas are fairly much central to Christianity itself, so it fundamentally affects the Christian concept of salvation. It has been suggested, with little exaggeration, that the debate has the potential to “lay the groundwork for an entirely different paradigm in the theology of the New Testament” (Sigve Tonstad, “ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ: Reading Paul in a New Paradigm,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 40.1 (2002): 37-59).