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Reason No. 94: Exchanging a Lutheran Paul for a Calvinistic Paul – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

Posted by NT Wrong on December 21, 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. 94: Exchanging a Lutheran Paul for a Calvinistic Paul

Many writers within the movement now known as ‘the Wrong Turn on Paul’ (sometimes known as ‘the New Perspective on Paul’) consider that they have escaped the Lutheran bias which overemphasised so-called (Jewish) legalism. Such a view of Paul is considered to overemphasize the importance of Paul’s contrast between justification by faith and justification by law, and also to reflect an unrealistic and polemical sixteenth-century view of Judaism. However, in giving up the ‘Lutheran Paul’, those writers who have accepted the Wrong Turn on Paul have not turned to the words of Paul himself. If they had, they might well have discarded the polemics concerning Jewish ‘legalism’, and had more regard to the importance of Paul’s emphasis on justification by faith (versus law), by being-in-Christ (versus being-Jewish).

But the New Perspective has exchanged a Lutheran conception of Paul for a Calvinistic conception of Paul. Or, if you like, their views now resemble that of an Über-Luther. They discard an overemphasis on Law for an overemphasis on the sovereignty of God and complete and utter insufficiency of human works. Proponents of the subjective genitive interpretation have argued that such an interpretation 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. For them, 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.

It is interesting how pervasive this Reformed (non-Pauline) way of thinking can be. Even Dunn, who defends the objective genitive, finds the theological implications of the subjective genitive attractive, and “wholly compatible” with Paul’s theology. Although Dunn correctly notes that the real question to be addressed is ‘what did Paul in fact intend?’, he has a sympathy with the theology Paul did not intend — to the extent that he finds it “wholly compatible” with Paul’s theology!

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 monergistic faith, than Paul’s own theological emphasis. And that is most probably 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 grace.

Matlock, who seems to have commented on everything concerning this topic, identifies the modern interpretation as “a sort of hyper-Protestantism” (2002: 312).

Paul, like most Jews, was to some extent a synergist. So his theology should not be artificially aligned with some modern theology, and certainly not with Calvinistic-Reformed-Barthian theology. But this realignment of Paul’s thought is exactly the tendency amongst proponents of the subjective genitive and the New Perspective in general.


  • R. Barry Matlock, “’Even the Demons Believe’: Paul and ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49.3 (2002): 300-318.
  • One Response to “Reason No. 94: Exchanging a Lutheran Paul for a Calvinistic Paul – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive”

    1. I don’t believe there is an “Objective” Genitive. What is the basis for asserting the existence of such a beast? Why didn’t Paul just use the Accusative? Seems like people just invented this category to get around what they thought was a difficult saying of Paul’s, which should be translated naturally as, “the faith of Jesus.”

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