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Reason No. 16: Straining after the Subjective Genitive Gnat – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

Posted by NT Wrong on December 20, 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. 16: Straining after the Subjective Genitive Gnat

Given the absence of any explicit reference to the “faithfulness” of Christ outside of the disputed phrases, we would expect Paul to refer to the faithfulness of Christ in some other way for the subjective genitive intepretation to have a sound foundation. But there aren’t any such examples. This forces the proponents of the subjective genitive interpretation to strain after a gnats, in their attempt to manufacture a “faith of Christ” meaning elsewhere. The very tendentiousness of the attempt is testimony to the superiority of the objective genitive interpretation.

For Hays, Jesus’ faithfulness is his obedience to God, pre-eminently in his death on the cross. Hays argues that Christ’s obedience has saving significance in Rom 5.19, that obedience and faith are linked in Rom 1.5, and therefore that faith has soteriological consequences (2002: 51). Although such explanations provide a theoretical corroboration for the subjective meaning of πίστις Χριστοῦ, Barry Matlock contends that proponents of the subjective genitive interpretation are using their ingenuity to find a sense for the phrase, rather than methodologically beginning from first principles in asking what the link is between πίστις and Jesus’ death that signals the selection of a particular sense of πίστις (“faithfulness”) and a particular relation to Χριστοῦ (“subjective”) (2000: 12).

It is probably correct that ὑπακοὴν πίστεως (Rom 1.5) is to be interpreted epexegetically as the “obedience which consists of faith” (Wright 2002: 420). But it is much more doubtful whether a description of obedient faith occurring among the Gentiles can be used to support the strong identification of obedience and faith required to interpret Christ’s obedience as “faithfulness”, without a more explicit unpacking or exposition of the idea elsewhere in relation to Christ. Although Christ’s obedience is a prominent theme in Paul’s epistles (e.g. Rom 5; Phil 2), the doubt surrounding Paul’s association of obedience with the idea of Christ’s “faithfulness” makes it quite unwarranted to conclude that there is a “prima facie expectation of subjective genitive” where the word πίστις appears in a genitival phrase with Χριστοῦ (contra Hooker 1989: 324). The same conclusion applies to the ‘Christ Hymn’ in Phil 2, where “obedience” is described, but is not equated with “fathfulness” to God here or elsewhere in Paul’s writings.

The issue is not resolved by referring to Paul’s explicit recognition of the faithfulness of God (Rom 3.3). As Hultgren notes, the issue concerns whether there is evidence for the faithfulness of Christ (to the Father), not the faithfulness of God (to humankind) (Hultgren 1980). In the first century AD, in Paul’s letters, these are not the same thing.


  • Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3.1—4.11. Rev. Ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
  • Morna D. Hooker, “ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ.” New Testament Studies 35 (1989): 321-42.
  • Arland J. Hultgren, “The Pistis Christou Formulations in Paul.” Novum Testamentum 22.3 (1980): 248-63.
  • R. Barry Matlock, “Detheologizing the ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ Debate: Cautionary Remarks from a Lexical Semantic Perspective.” Novum Testamentum 42.1 (2000): 1-23.
  • N. T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 10, Leander E. Keck, et al, eds. (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 420
  • One Response to “Reason No. 16: Straining after the Subjective Genitive Gnat – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive”

    1. In the first century AD, in Paul’s letters, these are not the same thing.

      “She was a twentieth-century woman,” says Ishmael Reed of Princess Quaw Quaw who lives during the days of Abraham Lincoln. And Reed says that in his “1976 novel Flight to Canada: a slave narrative of escape (though it includes buses and planes), a satire, a comedy,” says reviewer Michael Janairo, Editor, Arts & Entertainment. Your wonderful post makes me want to be Janairo!

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