Tuesday, October 11, 2005

πιστις χριστου in Paul

Mike Bird has a post on the πιστις χριστου discussion in Paul. As a supporter of subjective genitive thesis, I thought I'd note a few articles that I have found helpful in this discussion.
  • R. Hays The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1–4:11 [which contains two appended articles by Dunn: Once More, ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ and Hays response: ΠΙΣΤΙΣ and Pauline Christology: What Is at Stake?]
  • Paul Foster “The First Contribution to the πιστις χριστου Debate: A Study of Ephesians 3.12” in JSNT 85 (2002) 75-96.
  • HUNG-SIK CHOI “πιστις in Galatians 5:5–6: Neglected Evidence for the Faithfulness of Christ” JBL 124/3 (2005) 467–490
  • M. D. Hooker, “πιστις χριστου,” NTS 35 [1989] 321-45).
  • B. Matlock "Even the Demons Believe: πιστις χριστου" CBQ 64 (2002), pp. 300-18.
  • Herman C. Waetjen The Trust of Abraham and the Trust of Jesus Christ Currents in Theology and Mission, Volume 30/6.

The subjective genitive reading can never be casually dismissed, as it was by Cranfield, now that a general consensus favouring the objective genitive no longer exists. The subjective genitive reading is supported by many major scholars, among them N.T. Wright, R.N. Longenecker, L.T. Johnson, B. Witherington III, S.K. Williams, J.L. Martyn and M.D. Hooker (objective genitive supporters include J.D.G. Dunn, F.F. Bruce, M. Silva, S. Westerholm).

The rubber hit the road for me in Longenecker's commentary on Galatians, and with Hays response to Dunn @SBL as the knock-out blow. Hays disseminated Dunn with exegetical analysis while conceding that grammatical grounds were inconclusive. Another interesting notion is that of the NET Bible translators.

In the first instance, the most significant departure in the NET from other English translations is undoubtedly the translation of the Pauline expression, πιστις χριστου. A neutral rendering in, say, Rom 3.22—“by faith of Jesus Christ” (the KJV wording)—is virtually nonsensical.15 Because of this, modern English translations could not be ambivalent here; a choice had to be made. Should the genitive Cristou' be regarded as objective or subjective? Virtually all modern English translations regard it as an objective genitive, both in Rom 3.22 and the other Pauline texts16: “faith in Jesus Christ.” This is so in spite of an increasing number of scholars who, in the past few decades, have argued for a subjective genitive— “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” This construction, and its use in Rom 3.22, illustrates the need of both a completely new English translation and one that does not hide the tensions of biblical scholarship from the lay reader. In 1975, when C. E. B. Cranfield’s first volume of his ICC commentary on Romans was published, he could speak of the subjective genitive view of πιστις χριστου in Rom 3.22 as “altogether unconvincing” without giving much support for this conclusion, and citing only an early articulation of the subjective view written in 1891.17 The NIV NT had appeared two years earlier than Cranfield’s commentary. But in recent years, the subjective view has gained a greater hearing, although it still finds almost no place either in English translations or alternate renderings in the margin.

The state of flux that surrounded πιστις χριστου put the editors in a quandary. The first translator of the NET Romans in fact rendered this as “faith in Christ.” The editors were split, though leaning slightly toward the subjective view. We decided to consult NT scholars in the United States, England, Canada, and Australia, to find out what the climate was in their circles. I wrote to Bruce Longenecker , J. D. G. Dunn, and others who have written on this subject, and visited R. B. Hays, to get their impressions. Our concern was not so much to solve this crux interpretum but to sense where NT scholarship was heading on this matter. The NET is not a market-driven translation, but it is intended to reflect the best of current biblical scholarship. In this case, a decision was by no means easy. In the end, we opted for “the faithfulness of Christ.”

Thus, in their view the state of current scholarship points to a subjective reading, which I think makes most sense. The main push was my understanding of Galatians 2, in terms of Jesus being faithful. See Hays The Faith of Jesus, for the specific exegesis. This does not make me think that ALL possible references MUST go this way, but it's a strong indication and pull. Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16; 3:22; 5:5-6; & Eph. 3.12 seem to be probably subjective in meaning.

Nevertheless, the debate will go on. But I have yet to see anyone argue that Paul meant both the subjective and the objective genitive. Why should we try and split the two? Could Paul have meant both/and rather than either/or? Time will tell if this is at all possible...


Michael F. Bird said...


1. Thanks for your post on the sg of pistis christou - good stuff. I've tried to avoid it since it is such a quagmire. I should have added Longenecker and the NET bible to my list of readings.

2. I still think a big problem for the sg is the lack of support amongst the early church fathers, esp. the Greek speakers.

3. On your either/or; grammatically even if both are true, one still has to be predominate or it wouldn't make sense.

eddie said...

"This construction, and its use in Rom 3.22, illustrates the need of both a completely new English translation and one that does not hide the tensions of biblical scholarship from the lay reader."

This is what Im after in a bible translation. Perhaps then we could have "study bibles" worthy of the title...

Sean du Toit said...

Thanks for the comments Michael, but I don't feel the force of #2 because it doesn't really prove much for me. There is nothing to suggest that the early church writers interpreted Paul accurately, though that is certainly possible. I'm sure there are issues where you would feel the Early church departed from Paul or Jesus, why could they not have done so in this case?

As a tongue in cheek exercise, wasn't it Augustine who interpreted Romans in a Calvinistic sense, while all [most?] other church fathers didn't? See Gerald Bray's Ancience Christian Commentary on Romans for more...