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Reason No. 76: Faith versus Works – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive

Posted by NT Wrong on December 22, 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. 76: Faith versus Works

Proponents of the objective genitive have pointed out that πίστις Χριστοῦ is used in contexts where works are being contrasted with faith. As the natural contrast to human works is human faith, this supports the objective genitive translation. The interpretation is also supported by other similar passages such as Rom 9.30—10.8 and Phil 3.2-11 (Schreiner 2001: 213-14).

However, it is countered by Cousar (1996: 130) that it makes more sense to read Paul as pitting a human activity (works) against a divine activity (Christ’s faithful obedience). This rather misses the point of the passages. While Cousar’s suggestion may indeed be a “more powerful contrast” (Matera 1992), the question remains: is it the actual contrast being made in the text? Probably not. This contrast is not in fact Paul’s own contrast.

Matlock (2000: 12) provides an argument showing that this is not a good interpretation of Paul’s contrast. He points out that, if Paul’s antithesis were focused on divine versus human actions, it is unusual that Paul does not directly contrast ἔργα νόμου and ἔργα Χριστοῦ.

Accepting the governing context of Paul’s contrast between human faith and works, and between Abraham’s faith (Gen 15) and Abraham’s observance of God’s command (Gen 17), Paul’s antithetical worldview is a significant piece of evidence in favour of the objective genitive interpretation.

Hays’ theological objection that this places human faith at the basis of the promise (2002: 150-151) would only be true if human faith were the ultimate basis in any of these passages. But it is never is. Human faith is always made possible by the grace of God through Christ, and functions merely as the explanation of how humans are to appropriate this gift.


  • Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3.1—4.11. Rev. Ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
  • Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
  • C. B. Cousar, The Letters of Paul. Interpreting Biblical Texts. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996.
  • R. Barry Matlock, “Detheologizing the ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ Debate: Cautionary Remarks from a Lexical Semantic Perspective.” Novum Testamentum 42.1 (2000): 1-23.
  • Frank J. Matera, Galatians. Sacra Pagina 9. Collegeville: Liturgical, 1992.
  • 4 Responses to “Reason No. 76: Faith versus Works – 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive”

    1. The problem I see with this is that you are assuming that Paul is contrasting “faith” and “human effort”, rather than an attitude like Abraham’s of “trust/faithfulness” vs. symbols such as circumcision and other “works of the Torah”.

      I’m starting to wonder whether you are Simon Gathercole… 😉

    2. NT Wrong? said

      James – Yeah, it does sound like an assumption on its own. In the last couple of posts I’ll look at Galatians, and outline very briefly its contrast of human faith and human works.

    3. But Eph. 2:8 clearly states: “it is the gift of God”This “it” is neuter, and refers to the whole previous phrase, not just the grace (feminine), and not just the faith (also feminine). This would support that the faith comes from God, as part of the whole package, and would be consistent with the simple Genitive “faith of Jesus,” meaning Jesus’s faith. (I’m not using the terms “Subjective Genitive” or “Objective Genitive” as “Objective Genitive” is a fabricated beast to get around tough passages.)

    4. Either way, James, it’s an objective genitive if human “trust/faithfulness” is at stake. Furthermore, “faith” and “trust” – do we really want to pull apart the two? Admittedly,

      credo et confiteor omnia et singula quae sancta ecclesia Catholica proponit

      is not what Paul had in mind, I grant you that.

      Not even this:

      Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipoténtem, factórem cæli et terræ, visibílium ómnium et invisibílium;

      Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum, Fílium Dei unigénitum, et ex Patre natum ante ómnia sæcula: Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine, Deum verum de Deo vero, génitum non factum, consubstantiálem Patri, per quem ómnia facta sunt; qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem descéndit de cælis; et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto ex María Vírgine et homo factus est; crucifíxus étiam pro nobis sub Póntio Piláto, passus et sepúltus est; et resurréxit tértia die secúndum Scriptúras; et ascéndit in cælum, sedet ad déxteram Patris; et íterum ventúrus est cum glória iudicáre vivos et mórtuos; cuius regni non erit finis.

      Still, something like confident hope in specific content is at issue, if Abraham’s faith ab initio, before obedience, is accredited to him as righteousness, and serves as the analogical basis of Paul’s argument.

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