The Cruciform God: Chapter 2, The Faith of Jesus

We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God.

[In the book, Gorman only mentions this argument, assuming that it’s well known to his readers. But it’s a linchpin argument for his book, and so I lay out the case more thoroughly here.]

Recent scholarship, pushed by the work of N. T. Wright, has argued for a different translation of the Greek phrase pistis Christou. Now, to my rudimentary Greek, pistis = faith and Christou = of Christ. But nearly all translators after the KJV translate this as “faith in Christ,” but the latest translations are trending the other direction. You can see the change in thinking by comparing editions of the KJV from oldest to newest —

(Gal 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.

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

(Gal 2:16 21st Century 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.

The NIV’s translation is particularly awkward —

(Gal 2:16 NIV)  know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

The NIV actually feels obliged to insert a sentence break where none appears in the Greek, because the sentence is otherwise horribly redundant. I mean, consider the ESV, which doesn’t break the sentence up, but translates much as the NIV does —

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.

How many times does Paul have to say, “faith in Jesus Christ” to make his point? The ESV has it three times. But the second one is literally “believed into [eis] Jesus Christ” whereas the other two are literally “faith of Jesus Christ.”

Of course, it’s obvious why the translators are reluctant to go with “faith of Jesus Christ,” as it sounds too much as though Jesus is believing in himself, which surely isn’t the point of the passage. But pistis can also be translated as “faithfulness” — which is quite often the case in other places in just about all translations. Thus, the translation would become —

(Gal 2:16 21st Century KJV) knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith[fulness] of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith[fulness] of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

That obviously makes perfectly good sense. Jesus honored the covenant with God, even though we didn’t, and so our faith allows us to be credited with Jesus’ faithfulness. As N. T. Wright explains as to a related passage —

My own view is based entirely on Romans 3. I do not claim that Paul must have always meant the same thing by the phrase wherever it occurs, but I think Romans 3 creates a presupposition in that direction. Paul says in Romans 3:1-3 that the Israelites who were entrusted with the oracles of God were faithless, which leaves a problem for God because God is committed to working through Israel to save the world. What is required is a faithful Israelite in fulfillment of God’s covenant faithfulness, so when in 3:21 he says God has unveiled his covenant faithfulness, dia pisteōs Iēsou Christou, eis pantas tous pisteuontas, I find every reason to translate “God has unveiled his covenant faithfulness through the faithfulness of Jesus for the benefit of all who believe,” both halves of which are important. I think what Paul means by “the faithfulness of Jesus” there is not Jesus’ belief system or act of faith, but his faithfulness to God’s saving plan, which is the same thing as his obedience as we find it in Romans 5. Therefore, I hold my mind open to hearing the same things in Galatians and elsewhere.

That is a perfectly natural, simple translation, and even is what we find in the original KJV. However, it presents a subtle problem. The quotation from Wright comes from a discussion between him and James D. G. Dunn, a very respected theologian as well, who disagrees —

The other is that it’s pretty clear to me in some key passages, particularly Galatians 3, that pistis language is being used of Christian faith, to use that shorthand. The problem with Richard Hays’ presentation, as I recall, is that once you refer one of the pistis phrases, one of the “faith” phrases, to Christ’s faith (“the faithfulness of Christ”), it’s difficult to avoid reading all of the pistis references in the same way – the agreed presumption being that he’s using pistis consistently. But what strikes me again and again is that Paul starts his talk of pistis in Galatians 3 with Abraham: “Even so Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith (ek pisteos) who are sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:6, 7, NASB). It’s pretty obvious to me that this means “you believed as Abraham believed”; and it is that pistis reference which sets the pattern for the pistis references throughout the chapter. That would be one of the lines of argument I would want to develop.

Now, this is a big deal. You see, Dunn is afraid that if we translate pistis as “faithfulness,” when speaking of the faith of Jesus, then we must translate it the same way when speaking of the faith of Christians. But the New Testament certainly uses pistis to mean faithfulness in other places.

(Rom 3:3)  What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness [= pistis]?

(Gal 5:22-23)  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness [= pistis], 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

(3 John 1:3)  It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness[= pistis] to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth.

And so it’s hard to deny that pistis at least sometimes means faithfulness, no matter the theological consequences. And if God’s faithfulness to the covenant is important in Rom 3:3, why wouldn’t Jesus’ faithfulness be appropriately mentioned in Gal 2:16?

Now, when speaking of pistis Christou, the faith[fulness] of Christ, the sense is “Christ’s faithfulness to the covenant.” You see, the covenant is never far from Paul’s mind. Consider, for example,

(Rom 3:22-24)  This righteousness from God comes through [the faithfulness of] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

God gives us righteousness because Jesus was faithful. It makes sense. But what does that mean for the individual Christian? We’ll get there eventually. But first, we have to understand more about justification.

And I need to add this preview. “Righteousness from God” in Rom 3:22 is not righteousness ek [from] God, but righeousness theou [of God] in the Greek. And “righteousness of God” is in perfect parallel with “faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” And the KJV, NKJV, and 21KJV all agree. The NIV simply ignores the words. Both God and Jesus save through faith because both are faithful to the covenant.

[I realize I’ve not fully made the case yet. Stick with me …]

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3 Responses

  1. Jay,

    This is not particularly relevant, but is the graphic that you’re using for this series by Salvador Dali? Just curious.

  2. Consider 2 Timothy 2:11-13.

    This is a faithful saying:
    For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him.
    If we endure, We shall also reign with Him.
    If we deny Him, He also will deny us.
    If we are faithless, He remains faithful;,/b>
    He cannot deny Himself.

    While this is not pistis, but pistos, the thought does seem to fit with what you are saying above.

    I blogged on the “faithful sayings” in my series on sound doctrine. These, to me, are Paul’s “markers” by which he identifies particular elements of sound doctrine in Timothy & Titus. (See Titus 1:9 where the elder is to hold to the faithful word so he can use sound doctrine.)

    Jerry Starling

    committedtotruth.wordpress.com

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