Understanding Faith (01)

3 11 2008

Image by Mr Messy! via Flickr

Image by Mr Messy! via Flickr

In case you didn’t know, there’s a revolution happening right now over the meaning of faith. The expression “for the love of Pete,” means either “love towards Pete” (objective genitive) or “Pete’s love” (subjective genitive). Likewise, pistis Christou in Paul means either “faith in Christ” or “Christ’s faith” (Rom 3:22 & 26; Gal 2:16 [twice] & 20; Gal 3:22; and Phil 3:9). Traditionally it has been taken as “faith in Christ.” But more recently, people have gravitated towards the second. The implications can be big, as Mark Reasoner suggests: “Proponents… who hold that Christ’s faith is what saves will not call for… placing one’s faith in Jesus. They will rather call people to join the church that lives out… the faith that Jesus displayed” (Romans in Full Circle, 39).

This is a great example of how your reading impinges upon the message you preach. The specific issue also has implications for where Christian ethics should be placed in the scheme of things. In this series of contribution (posted weekly), I want to use this debate to illustration the importance of how you read. More than this though, I hope to stir thinking in a new direction on the issue itself (and thus the ethical question), by focusing on what has been a blind spot. What happens when we read pistis Christou as a Graeco-Roman person would have read it? Surprisingly perhaps, the answer has much to do with relationships!

posted by Bruce Lowe

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3 responses

3 11 2008
martinkemp

First comment! First comment! Is there a prize? Maybe a copy of Con’s new book 😉

I think Reasoner’s comment that “Proponents… who hold that Christ’s faith is what saves will not call for… placing one’s faith in Jesus. They will rather call people to join the church that lives out… the faith that Jesus displayed” is a little presumptuous. There are other parts of the NT which call us to respond in faith; it’s not as if our faithful response is only called for by that one Pauline phrase. And in any case, knowing that Christ has been faithful is itself motivation to place our faith in the one who has been faithful on our account.

5 11 2008
Mikey Lynch

Great blog, guys!

I can see that this could be a very possible tendency of the subjective genitive approach, or even that it is one of the appeals of this approach to some theologiancs… but is the the necessary consequence? Surely Christ’s faithful obedience is also the backbone of imputed righteousness?

6 11 2008
Bruce Lowe

Hi Guys, thanks for your comments. I hesitated to include this quote for the very reason you mentioned. I don’t think it is a necessary implication. But Reasoner is right to say that some people take it this way and (on your comment Martin), they may then assert- if pistis should be translated as “faithfulness” with respect to Christ, then pistis should also be translated as “faithfulness” when used for us. Must you go this way? No, but you can see their rationale and why Reasoner’s comment is not just a cheap shot.

As this series of articles continue will argue that there is a definite reason (i.e. relational position) why pistis means “faith”/trust when it refers to us.




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