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Reason No. 14: No Argument Based on a Disputed Phrase – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

Posted by NT Wrong on December 18, 2008

pistis_christouThe following post is an abridged version of one of the 100 reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive included in my forthcoming book:

100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

Reason No. 14: No Argument Based on a Disputed Phrase

Of great significance for the proponent of the objective genitive interpretation is that, while the faith of believers is mentioned many times in Romans and Galatians, there is no unambiguous explicit reference to the faithfulness of Christ (Schreiner 2001). There is only a conspicuous silence.

Here’s the references to the faith of human believers in Romans and Galatians:

    Rom 1.5;
    Rom 1.8;
    Rom 1.12;
    Rom 3.27-28;
    Rom 3.30-31;
    Rom 4.5;
    Rom 4.9;
    Rom 4.11-14;
    Rom 4.16;
    Rom 4.19-20;
    Rom 5.1-2;
    Rom 9.30;
    Rom 9.32;
    Rom 10.6;
    Rom 10.8;
    Rom 10.17;
    Rom 11.20;
    Rom 14.23;
    Rom 16.26;
    Gal 2.20;
    Gal 3.2;
    Gal 3.5;
    Gal 3.7-9;
    Gal 3.11-12;
    Gal 3.14;
    Gal 3.26;
    Gal 5.5-6.

And here’s the references to the faithfulness of Christ in Romans and Galatians:

James (“Jimmy”) Dunn’s contention is therefore that the subjective genitive interpretation is a “thesis built solely on a disputed phrase”. This slightly overstates the case against the subjective genitive, as the thesis is built on the lack of any explicit references to Christ’s πίστις. It is still open to the proponent of the subjective genitive to argue for some implicit reference. But Dunn is correct that the subjective genitive interpretation has been largely built on the basis of a disputed phrase – hardly a reassuring basis for any interpretation.

But W.W.B.S.? This is what Barry says:

“While the objective genitive is supported by the surrounding linguistic context … the subjective genitive rests crucially on the phrases themselves” (2002: 316-17).

So this provides a strong basis on which to interpret πίστις Χριστοῦ as an objective genitive.


  • James D. G. Dunn, “Once More, ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ.” Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers, 1991: 730-44.
  • R. Barry Matlock, “‘Even the Demons Believe’: Paul and ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49.3 (2002): 300-318.
  • Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001).
  • 16 Responses to “Reason No. 14: No Argument Based on a Disputed Phrase – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive”

    1. I think you just became more conservative just by citing Schreiner…

    2. NT Wrong? said

      Thomas Schreiner is my Homeboy.

    3. danielandtonya said

      Do you already have 100 reasons? Or does this force you to keep coming up with stuff?

    4. I was going to say that I’m surprised that you quoted Schreiner, but on second thought, I’m really not. For my money, Schreiner (1993; 2001) is much better on the theology of St Paul than Dunn could ever hope to be.

    5. NT Wrong? said

      Daniel and Tonya – I’ve got maybe a couple of dozen reasons. I don’t know if I’ve got the endurance to write 100 posts on that phrase, let alone a book.

      And besides, I’m rapidly discovering that Barry Matlock has about 99% of them covered already.

    6. NT Wrong? said

      Esteban – I don’t agree with much that the New Perspective says. It’s fundamentally unsound.

    7. danielandtonya said

      Why not Gal 2.16?

    8. I wholeheartedly agree — which is why, in my estimation, Schreiner’s treatment of St Paul’s theology (in spite of his obvious shortcomings) is far superior to Dunn’s, and for that matter, that of every other NPP advocate (cf., for instance, N. T. Wright’s insufferable Paul: In Fresh Perspective).

    9. steph said

      Ah Esteban – you are blessed with that rare quality in this discipline: logic. You’re a bright lad with a bright future. 🙂

    10. Oh, Steph –you should chat with me sometime before you come to any conclusions. Recently, a good friend remarked that it was astounding how purposely irrational I could be at times. 😉

    11. NT Wrong? said

      Daniel and Tonya – Really! That question betrays your complete lack of understanding of how to string out a straightforward and relevant answer into a 100-point pop-format book. How do you ever expect to become rich and famous in Biblical Studies with that kind of attitude?

      (The later ‘reasons’ treat individual verses, and I’ll include a couple of them here. Like Gal 2.16, a verse much abused by Hooker, Wright, et al)

    12. The background self-talk I am having reading this is what it has to do with Barth’s discussion of election. There he seems to clearly refer to the subjective genitive in reference to Christ as the Elected One of God. Could Barth have rooted such a controversial yet studied doctrine central to his dogmatics on a flawed exegesis?

    13. NT Wrong? said

      Drew – Barth doesn’t base any of his dogmatics on exegesis – flawed or otherwise – but on dogmatics. 😉

      But thanks for raising Barth. Proponents of the subjective genitive interpretation have argued that it shifts the emphasis in Paul’s theology to the role of God’s grace over that of humanity’s faith, and overcomes the post-Lutheran tendency to consider human belief a work in itself, rather than only a response to God’s grace. The shift of emphasis triggered by a subjective genitive interpretation makes conversion less of a human summoning up of boldness and courage to make a decision for Christ, than a response to a call made already by God. Even Dunn, who defends the objective genitive, finds the theological implications of the sujective genitive attractive and “wholly compatible” with Paul’s theology (although he notes that the real question is: what did Paul in fact intend?).

      Dunn’s question is correct, but raises a dilemma for him and those with a Reformed bias. For, if the subjective genitive intepretation increases the emphasis on God’s sovereignty and the necessity of grace beyond Paul’s intended meaning, and this occurs in Paul’s key passages summarising the Gospel – can the result still be “wholly compatible” with Paul’s theology?

      A shift in emphasis in these key, theologically compact passages is inevitably also a shift away from Paul’s theology. And given the direction of the emphasis, the shift is more “wholly compatible” with the Augustinian-Calvinist-Barthian emphasis on monoergistic faith, than Paul’s own theological emphasis. And that may be why such a theology is perceived as “attractive”, not because it correctly interprets Paul.

      The proponents of the subjective genitive appear to have more concern to deny works and affirm grace than Paul himself does, who, more in tune with the Judaism of his day, allows more place for the paradox and tension of human versus divine will, rather than insisting on monergistic faith.

      Matlock, who is right about everything on this topic, identifies the modern interpretation as “a sort of hyper-Protestantism”.

      Paul, like most Jews, was a synergist.

    14. Drew said

      That’s basically what I was thinking, but with far less aplomb. And the thing about Barth’s exegesis was tongue in cheek I might add… 🙂 Hard to conceive that Paul would be thinking of the role of Christ in those terms at all. Well, unless you feel like you HAVE to. Then you can probably justify anything your little heart desires.

    15. Rachel said

      What about Galatians 2:16 – faithfulness of Christ,
      I just saw above that you dissed someone for asking the same question- so I’m confused. The phrase pisteus christos is in Gal 2:16 regardless how you interpret it- faithfulness of Christ or faith in Christ-
      So, it seems that your list of faith of human believers vs faith of Christ is biased on how you translate the verses, not based on where people get the concepts.

      p.s. I think this is an objective Genitive not a subjective Genitive, but I just want to make sure that your 100 reasons are actual good reasons, not just a biased way of looking at things.

    16. N.T. Wrong said

      Rachel – the last comment was more than five years ago. We’ve all left the building.

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