Understanding Faith (05)

7 12 2008
The Crucifixion, central panel of the Isenheim...
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Well the time has come to bring this discussion back to the Pistis Christou Debate. If pistis (faith) is a word like “Charis” (grace/thanks) and “eucharistow” (thanks/grace) who’s meaning is determined by the position of the different parties in a relationship, then what would we expect in a relationship like God ↔ people? In Rom 3:1-8 Paul claims that the Jewish promotion of the law has turned it into a contractual relationship. But this is not the way it should be. Rather, over and again, God is presented as the great patron who freely gives in grace to people, so they may honor him. Under this perspective, we would expect God to be performing acts of Pistis towards people (=kindness, faithfulness) because that’s what patrons do. And we would expect people to be expressing Pistis back towards God (=trust), because that’s the appropriate response from people who have a patron. This would then account for pistis Christou. It is Christ’s pistis not towards the God but towards us! To which Christians then respond in a reciprocal way with trust. So pistis Christou may be subjective genitive, but of a sort which actually doesn’t turn human pistis into a following of Jesus’ example… rather, most naturally, it is defined by the relationship itself as trust! Ironically then there is a way of taking pistis Christou as a subjective genitive, but arriving at a place where most proponents of the objective genitive come to!

Posted by Bruce Lowe.

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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