Mystery Theater: Where Do These Clues Lead?

Like a good mystery novel, this is probably best read wearing a pair of slippers and sitting in your favorite chair with a cup of hot tea. I would also suggest a Bible and perhaps a pencil. Ready?

Clue #1 Strange Exceptions or Pure Baloney?

How finely tuned is your baloney detector? For most of us, alarms will probably go off in our heads if someone were to claim that a particular word normally means something, but when it refers to a certain individual it always reflects a secondary meaning. As an example, how would you regard the following claim? “I know the primary meaning for this Greek word is ‘brother’ and different Biblical writers consistently use it in this manner, however it just so happens that every time these different writers use it to describe Jesus’ brothers, they are referring to his cousins.”

Unless additional evidence from the text would suggest adopting such an interpretation, this probably sounds very fishy to you. Similarly, I smelled something wrong as I’ve kept one eye on my Greek New Testament and the other on certain translations and commentaries.

How would the following claim strike you? “The standard way of interpreting a genitive Greek construction in English is to use ‘of’ or ‘from.’ The genitive will serve either an objective or subjective relationship with the noun it modifies. But in neither case is this relationship translated with the preposition ‘in,’ … (get ready for the big claim) … unless you are talking about faith.”

In Romans 3:22, 26; Galatians 2:16, 20; 3:22; and Philippians 3:9 where the genitive ties faith to Jesus, some assert that the Greek phrase does not mean the “faith of Jesus,” but rather “faith in Jesus.” According to these commentaries and translations, this unusual phenomenon should also be extended to Ephesians 3:12 where it is claimed that “faith of him” should be translated as “faith in him.” (Just for your information, except for Romans 3:26, the KJV translates all of these phrases with “of” and not with “in.”)

Well, this might be true. What’s the evidence?

Typically, commentators try to dismiss the charge that they are engaged in special pleading by pointing to Mark 11:22, where they contend that “faith of God” should be translated as “faith in God.” However, the granddaddy of Greek grammarians (A.T. Robertson) concedes that this phrase actually means “have the God kind of faith” and not have faith in God.(1)

So we are back to where we started. What legitimate reason would lead us to translate these verses in the atypical manner of “in” instead of with the expected “of”? Is the grammar of the Greek New Testament driving these translations or is a predetermined doctrinal filter in charge? This is an uncomfortable question to ask!

Clue #2 Paul Knew How to Clearly Write “Faith In Jesus” and He Did So.

In the Greek language, if someone wants to write, “faith in ___”, there is a way to do this.(2) Paul knew the normal convention to communicate “faith in” because he used it at various times. Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 1:15; Colossians 1:4; 2:5; 2 Timothy 3:15

This raises a question. If Paul knew how to clearly write “faith in,” why would he use the form for “faith of” in Romans 3:22, etc., if he meant “faith in”?

Clue # 3 Meaningless Redundancy? Concise Statements?

The plot thickens. If “faith in Jesus” is an accurate translation in Romans 3:22 and Galatians 3:22, then it would appear Paul’s pen needlessly stuttered. In these verses Paul would have written “through faith in Jesus, to all who believe” and “in order that the promise out of faith in Jesus Christ may be given to all who believe.” If someone has faith in Jesus, he or she obviously believes. So why the repetition?

On the other hand, if these verses should be translated as “faith of Jesus,” then clear concise statements ring out. In this case, Romans 3:21-22 would be teaching that the righteousness of God is manifested through the faith of Jesus being available to all who believe. Galatians 3:22 would be teaching that the benefits of Jesus’ faith are available to all who believe.

So, which of the two seems more reasonable to you? Did Paul repeat himself or was Paul teaching about Jesus’ faith?

OK Detective, Check Your Note Pad

There are some more clues, but what have you concluded so far? If you had to determine at this point whether the verses we have been evaluating should be translated “faith of Jesus” or “faith in Jesus,” which would you claim is what Paul intended to communicate?

What have some others concluded on this?

“The true scriptural justification ‘by faith’ has no reference at all to the stinking faith of sinners, but to the ‘faith of the Son of God.’ … the faith of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the scriptures is the legitimate ground of justification because Christ’s faith was perfect.” James Burton Coffman, Romans, (ACU Press:1973), pp. 109, 110.

“The decision in individual passages does not greatly affect the overall understanding of New Testament teaching. … Even if all the passages speaking of ‘the faith of Christ’ refer to Christ’s faith, there are many passages remaining where righteousness is connected with human faith.” Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, (Eerdmans: 1996), p. 157

What have I concluded? Well, we already know that it is because of Jesus’ righteousness and sinlessness that he could die on our behalf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 1:18-19 Since a sinner could not redeem us, our salvation rests upon how Jesus lived in response to God in order that he might die for us. For Paul to describe our justification to be based upon Jesus’ faith does not alter what we already know regarding Jesus being the basis of our salvation.

Thus, if these verses describe Jesus’ faith this would simply reemphasize our dependency upon Jesus for salvation, providing us with an even richer understanding of justification by faith. If Paul indeed intended for these verses to refer to Jesus’ faith (and this seems so), then the truth of the matter would be those who believe in Jesus are justified on the basis of Jesus’ faith.

(1) Genitive case
(2) A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 500.
(3) Dative case with or without certain prepositions.

The following two tabs change content below.

Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They are the parents of two young men.

Share your thoughts: