Digging Out God’s Message

by Barry Newton
While God’s message is not difficult, sometimes to arrive at a Biblical understanding requires more than a casual glance. Studying to show yourself approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:15) demands more than quickly embracing our initial impressions. One valuable Bible study tool for English readers involves studying scripture in various translations.

Reading Philippians 3:9 in different translations immediately reveals further digging is warranted. The NIV has, “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, … but that which is through faith in Christ.” On the other hand, the KJV reads, “be found in him, not having my own righteousness, … but that which is through the faith of Christ.” Some newer translations, like the NET, support the KJV: “be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness …, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness.”

To accurately excavate God’s message, was Paul communicating in this text that Christians are righteousness in Christ because of their faith in Christ or because of Christ’s faith?

Before simply gravitating to a gut feeling or throwing our hands up in despair, here’s an initial observation: Neither of these translations change accepted doctrine.

Scriptures elsewhere teach both that salvation involves faith in Christ (2 Timothy 3:15) and that the perfectly righteous life Jesus lived made possible the Christian’s saved status (1 Peter 1:18-19; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The question is: Which idea was Paul intending to communicate in Philippians 3:9?

What about the Greek? The problem is that the Greek New Testament simply reads, “faith of Christ,” which, unfortunately enables two understandings. For example, does “gift of Sam” refer to a gift belonging to Sam (subjective genitive) or is Sam the gift (objective genitive)?

The NET’s “Christ’s faithfulness” reflects a subjective genitive, while the NIV’s “faith in Christ” purports to provide a legitimate translation for an objective genitive.
Consider the following evidence for yourself.

1) Greek provides a standard way to write “faith in ___” and Paul frequently used it (Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 1:15; Colossians 1:4; 2:5; 2 Timothy 3:15).

2) If “faith in Christ” represents a valid translation for an objective genitive, then as far as I have discovered, this usage of “in” as an objective genitive to relate the noun to the object of the preposition, is unique to the word “faith.”

3) Paul’s phrase “faith of Christ” pops up in contexts where Paul is emphasizing what God has accomplished through Christ (Ephesians 3:12; Romans 3:26), or in contexts contrasting the different paths people might look to for their access to salvation (Galatians 3:16; Romans 3:21-22 and Philippians 3:9), or when describing the empowerment of Christian living (Galatians 2:20).

After studying and meditating upon the context of Philippians 3:7-11, where is Paul’s focus? Are Paul’s thoughts focused upon how we respond to Christ or what Christ has provided for us? Did Paul intend us to understand “faith in Christ” or “Christ’s faith”?

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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 have two boys attending university.

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