Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Faithfulness of Christ or our Faith in Christ?

[Nota Bene: To see the original Greek here you will need to download and install the Bibleworks fonts available at this website. You will also need the SBL fonts at the Society of Biblical Literature site. You may also click on the Biblos.com links to see an interlinear of the verses in both Greek and in English.]

An Exegetical Study of the Issue of “Faith in Christ” Versus the “Faith of Christ” and the Theological Implications from a Reformed Perspective

First of all, this brief study is not meant to be an exhaustive investigation of every exegetical issue raised by the Scripture verses which are directly relevant to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Nor do I claim to be an expert in the grammar or syntax of Koine Greek. I am merely applying intuitive understanding to the knowledge I have in general of grammar in both English and in Greek. Quite often the specific examples of different grammatical and syntactical forms given in Greek grammars do not give enough information for the student to know with certainty what the writer of the grammar in question would say regarding the specific exegetical issue being addressed by the student. For that reason the student is left to himself or herself to make decisions about the constructions being observed in the text. It is in the spirit of adventure, learning, and confidence that I will address the following issue, namely does the Bible teach that we are to have faith in Christ as the object of our faith?

Moreover, in the interest of refuting several erroneous applications drawn from an erroneous hermeneutic one cannot avoid both a grammatical and a syntactical study of the phrase in question, namely “faith in Christ” and the “faith of Christ”. If the modern critics are correct that Galatians 2:16 and Philippians 3:9 are subjective genitives referring to the faith of Christ, what are the theological implications of such a position and how does that relate to Reformed theology? I hope to addresss those questions below.

Obviously, both of these terms are English translations of an underlying Greek phrase in the Greek New Testament. Wherever variant readings in the Greek New Testament (GNT) are relevant, those readings will be discussed as well. Exactly what does the GNT have to say on the issue of faith as it is related to Christ? This question can only be answered by going through the verses one at a time and examining how the term relates to the context of each pericope in which it occurs.

It is interesting that the King James Version of the Bible translates only two verses by the term the “faith of Christ”.

(Galatians 2:16 KJV) Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

(Philippians 3:9 KJV) And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

There are at least four other places where the KJV uses the term “faith in Christ”:

(Acts 24:24 KJV) And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.

(Galatians 3:26 KJV) For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

(Colossians 1:4 KJV) Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,

(Colossians 2:5 KJV) For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.

Since this is a good place to begin we will examine each verse in the Greek New Testament and then determine the precise usage of the term in each of those verses. Where variant readings are applicable this will be examined as well.

Beginning with Acts 24:24 the Greek term will be examined and a preliminary determination made followed by final conclusions and applications at the end of this paper.

. . . περὶ τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν πίστεως. (Acts 24:24 NA27) [Acts 24:24 Biblos.com.]

The literal translation of this dependent clause is, “. . . concerning the 'in Christ Jesus' faith.” Greek word order does not precisely match English, although in many cases there is a close parallel. In particular, Greek is an inflected language. In other words, the formation of words determines their grammatical meaning as that relates to word order and sentence structure and syntactical meaning.

It should be noted that articles, adjectives and nouns occur in four cases which are indicators of their grammatical meaning in a sentence.i In Acts 24:24 the article
tēs or τῆς is in the singular genitive case and is feminine in gender. Since pisteōs or πίστεως matches the case of the article, it follows that the intervening words tell us what kind of faith being described, namely the “in Christ Jesus” kind of faith. In other words, the phrase “in Christ Jesus” is in the accusative case and is therefore the object of the objective genitive. The accusative is usually the direct object of the sentence. Furthermore, the phrase “in Christ” is an appositive. The other option is that it is in the attributive position and functions as adjectival phrase describing the kind of faith to which Luke is referring. (To see an online interlinear version of the verse click on Acts 24:24 at Biblos.com). The same can be said of Colossians 2:5 although that verse leaves out “Jesus”. It simply says, “. . . τὸ στερέωμα τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν πίστεως ὑμῶν” (Col 2:5 BNT) or “. . . the firmness of your faith in Christ.” (Col 2:5 ESV) The phrase εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν is a prepositional phrase in the accusative case in Acts 24:24 and in Colossians 2:5. The best translation is therefore, “the faith in Christ Jesus” or “ the faith in Christ” in Colossians 2:5. In both Acts 24:24 and Colossians 2:5 Jesus is the object of our faith and therefore this is an objective genitive.

We can therefore draw a preliminary conclusion already that in the case of Acts 24:24 and Colossians 2:5 we make a legitimate claim that Christ is the object of our faith. Those who would say that it is somehow semi-pelagian to emphasize Christ as the object of our own faith or that our own faith is subjective and therefore attacks the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in some way are simply misreading the Scriptures as a whole. The Scriptures obviously teach both the sovereignty of God and our subjective responsibility and accountability as individual believers.

In Galatians 3:26 the Greek New Testament reads:

Πάντες γὰρ υἱοὶ θεοῦ ἐστε διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ· (Galatians 3:26 NA27) [Galatians 3:26 Biblos.com.]

Here we have an instrumental genitival phrase, namely “through the faith” διὰ τῆς πίστεως which points to the objective dative, “in Christ Jesus.” Christ Jesus is obviously the object of our faith in this verse as well. In fact the term ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ occurs 47 times in the GNT.

It is interesting here that the ESV gets the word order of Galatians 3:26 wrong. I have to wonder if this is due to variation for the sake of variation? The ESV reads:

. . . for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:26 ESV)


A more literal reading is expressed in the NASB:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26 NASB)

Changing the word order as the ESV does changes the meaning of the verse because the emphasis changes with word order in English. It seems to me that the direct object of the sentence is “in Christ Jesus”, not “through faith”. “Through faith” is the instrument by which we are in Christ and the subject of the sentence is that we are sons of God. It is by the means of faith that we are in Christ and because we are in Christ we are also sons of God. While the ESV translation is a possible one, it does not do justice to what the Greek actually says and can mislead English readers. This is why interlinear Bibles are important for those who do not read Greek. I have to wonder if some translations just need to be different because of copyright infringements rather than actually giving a better translation of a verse?

Colossians 1:4 is another case in point where Christ is the object of faith. The Greek reads:

ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τὴν ἀγάπην ἣν ἔχετε εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους (Colossians 1:4 NA27) [See this verse in transliteration and interlinear at Colossians 1:4 Biblos.com.]

. . . since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, . . . (Colossians 1:4 ESV)

Our faith is in Christ Jesus as the object upon which and in whom we place our faith. He is to be believed in and trusted.

Looking now at the two verses in question which are claimed to be subjective genitives, Galatians 2:16 and Philippians 3:9, a determination must be made as to whether this is a correct reading of those verses.

εἰδότες [δὲ] ὅτι οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν, ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ δικαιωθήσεται πᾶσα σάρξ.(Galatians 2:16 NA27) [Galatians 2:16 Biblos.com.]

καὶ εὑρεθῶ ἐν αὐτῷ, μὴ ἔχων ἐμὴν δικαιοσύνην τὴν ἐκ νόμου ἀλλὰ τὴν διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ, τὴν ἐκ θεοῦ δικαιοσύνην ἐπὶ τῇ πίστει, (Philippians 3:9 NA27) [Philippians 3:9 Biblos.com.]

A majority of the modern translations refer to this as an objective genitive. Note above that the King James Version retains the ambiguity of the two verses by translating the verses literally as “faith of Christ” rather than “faith in Christ”. Galatians has it as διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ and Philippians has διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ.

. . .yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16 ESV)

. . . and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- (Philippians 3:9 ESV)

It should be noted that the NASB, RSV, ESV, NRSV, NIV and practically all the modern translations go with the objective genitive. However, Daniel B. Wallace and other New Testament Greek grammarians see both these verses as subjective genitives which reflect the “faith of Christ” or the “faithfulness of Christ” rather than the objective genitive “faith in Christ”.ii

We can add to this list of verses in question Romans 3:22; Galatians 3:22 and Ephesians 5:15:

δικαιοσύνη δὲ θεοῦ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας. οὐ γάρ ἐστιν διαστολή, (Romans 3:22 NA27) [Romans 3:22 Biblos.com.]

ἀλλὰ συνέκλεισεν ἡ γραφὴ τὰ πάντα ὑπὸ ἁμαρτίαν, ἵνα ἡ ἐπαγγελία ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοθῇ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν. (Galatians 3:22 NA27) [Galatians 3:22 Biblos.com.]

ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν παρρησίαν καὶ προσαγωγὴν ἐν πεποιθήσει διὰ τῆς πίστεως αὐτοῦ. (Ephesians 3:12 NA27) [Ephesians 3:12 Biblos.com.]

According to Wallace, the subjective genitive always occurs as part of a prepositional phrase.iii Wallace goes into considerable technical details in his grammar, most of which the reader is expected to accept on Wallace's word since no substantial evidence is offered from other grammars or from the biblical text itself. I have to wonder what Wallace's theological biases are in this regard. Since he teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary it would appear that Wallace is not particularly indebted to a more Reformed perspective on the textual and grammatical issues. It seems to me that regardless of whether or not these are subjective genitives as Wallace and other scholars contend, the bottom line is that this does not reflect on the question of whether or not Christ is the object of our faith since plenty of other texts do express the thought that we are to believe “in Christ”. As Wallace himself says:

Nevertheless, the predominant usage in the NT is with a subjective gen.121 Practically speaking, if the subjective gen. view is correct, these texts (whether pi,stij is translated “faith” or “faithfulness”)122 argue against “an implicitly docetic Christology.”123 Further, the faith/faithfulness of Christ is not a denial of faith in Christ as a Pauline concept (for the idea is expressed in many of the same contexts, only with the verb pisteu,w rather than the noun), but implies that the object of faith is a worthy object, for he himself is faithful. Although the issue is not to be solved via grammar, on balance grammatical considerations seem to be in favor of the subjective gen. view.iv

According to Wallace and others, Romans 3:22, 3:26; Galatians 2:1, 2:22; Ephesians 3:12; Colossians 2:16; Philippians 3:9 should all be translated as subjective genitives referring to the “faithfulness of Christ” or the “faith of Christ”. If this is true, then this could be evidence for the Reformed doctrine of the active obedience of Christ. In other words, the faithfulness of Christ in keeping the moral law of God perfectly for us is the vicarious substitution of Christ in our place even in His sinless life. He keeps the law for us in our place and then He takes the penalty of the law by dying for us in our place on the cross, bearing the wrath of God against us in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).

Unless we are clear about this doctrine, it can lead to a form of self-righteousness by following the example of Christ as a means of our own justification. The late David Broughton Knox gives us an insight into this doctrine but does not specify clearly enough that this is also the active obedience of Christ:

The New Testament makes clear that Jesus' obedience is the ground of forgiveness. “By the disobedience of the one, many were constituted sinners; so through the obedience of the one, many were constituted righteous.” (Romans 5:19; cf. Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 10:9-10).v

In conclusion, even though the debate continues on whether these verses refer to the faithfulness of Christ or to Christ as the object of our faith, both the doctrine of Christ's active obedience and the doctrine that Christ alone is to be worshipped as the Savior of mankind are taught expressly in Scripture.vi We should be careful not to overreact in either direction. Those who focus on our faith in Christ are not placing the emphasis on subjective experience since even our faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). And those who emphasize the obedience of Christ should be careful not to say that Christ is merely our example. Christ kept the law for us since we ourselves could never keep the law perfectly (Matthew 5:17-20, 48). Since Christ is our federal head, we are reckoned or declared righteous on the basis of Christ's faithfulness and obedience and not on the basis of our own obedience or our own faithfulness. Just as we are accounted or declared guilty of Adam's original sin and we are born with a corrupt human nature so we are also declared righteous, renewed in the image and likeness of God through both the faithfulness of Christ and our own faith in Christ, the Savior of His elect people from every nation, race, and gender on earth (Matthew 28:18-20; Galatians 3:28; Revelation 5:9; 1 John 2:2).

iNominative, genitive, dative and accusative.

iiWallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). Bibleworks 8.0 Electronic edition.

iiiIbid., pp. 115-116.

ivIbid., p. 116.

vKnox, David Broughton. D. Broughton Knox: Selected Works: Volume I: The Doctrine of God. Ed. Tony Payne. (Kingsford NSW: Matthias Media, 2000). Pp. 230-231.

viSee also: Baxter's Ongoing Thoughts, by C. Baxter Kruger and By the Faith of Christ, or our Faith in Christ?, by Tony Warren.


Reasonable Christian Blog Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; Answer. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen. 1662 Book of Common Prayer


Anonymous said...

Given the company that Baxter Kruger keeps, I'm surprised that you of all people would quote him in support of, well, anything.

Charlie J. Ray said...

I don't believe I quoted Baxter Kruger. In fact, I don't know who he is. That being the case, however, it seems to me that his blog article on the issue presented in concise form the side proposing that this is a subjective genitive. I tend to favor the objective genitive. But either way the Scriptures teach both that Jesus is the object of our faith and that Jesus' active obedience is what justifies us before God.

Charlie J. Ray said...

I'm not sure why Daniel B. Wallace thinks having faith in Christ implies a docetic view of Christ. Most systematic theologies I've read indicate that Christ is present to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit, which is why the Holy Spirit is sometimes called "the Spirit of Christ".

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Romans 8:9 NAU)

seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. (1 Peter 1:11 NAU)

NASB 1995 Update

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