The journey continues (5): the weakest link?

Whenever people wish to dismiss an idea, they gravitate toward their perception of the weakest link. Discredit that link. Feel justified in rejecting the idea.

While such a decisive response could neither be justified nor wise, what might each perspective in the “faith of Christ” discussion regard as the opposing viewpoint’s weakest link? Ironically, both sides might point to whether or not this phrase should be rendered with “in.”

For those favoring “faith in Christ,” they might perceive the opposing opinion as fighting an uphill battle against the combined testimony of classic Greek grammars and commentaries. However, for those supporting “faith of Christ,” they might view “in” as being unwarranted by the text.

In my journey, two important questions surfaced: 1) How appropriate is it to translate a genitive with “in”? 2) Should “faith of Christ” be identified as an objective or subjective genitive?  Here are some milestones influencing my path.

As for the first question, A.T. Robertson’s comments forged an unforgettable framework upon my thinking. He insisted that a translation should preserve the genitive’s root idea, namely one nominal (e.g. noun) specifying something about another. While he does consider it appropriate to translate a genitive with various prepositions beyond “of,” he warns against making the error of equating the meanings embedded in our resulting translation for the actual idea conveyed by the genitive.

For example, he regarded “removal to Babylon” as being an appropriate translation in Matthew 1:12. Yet, “the genitive does not mean ‘to,'” but rather is specifying a “‘Babylon-removal.’ That is all.” (493-494).

Similarly, when commenting about the genitive of place, “of water” in the phrase to “dip his finger’s tip in (of) water” (Luke 16:24), it “emphasizes the kind of material which the speaker clearly has in mind” (495).

Daniel B. Wallace also suggests the genitive of place can be translated with “in.” However, “This usage is rather rare in the NT and ought to be suggested only if no other category fits. …. Like the genitive of time, this use focuses on kind or quality (as opposed to the dat., which focuses on a point or specific location)” (124).

Robertson remarked concerning the objective genitive, we “must not suppose that the Greek genitive means all the different English prepositions used to translate the resultant idea. Thus in Mark 11:22 … we rightly translate ‘have faith in God,’ though the genitive does not mean ‘in,’ but only the God kind of faith” (500).

For better or worse, these thoughts have shaped my understanding of the controversy. If “faith of Christ” does not refer to Christ’s own faith, I would understand it to designate a Christ kind of faith. Thus the genitive “of Christ” eliminates the faith from being shaped or characterized by the Law, myself or any other source. To echo the grammarians above, its nature would specify our faith as being a Christ kind of faith.

Wrangling over whether “faith in Christ” or a “Christ kind of faith” more accurately reflects the Greek becomes meaningful only when we identify it as an objective genitive. Thus the more fundamental question is: Does this phrase constitute an objective or subjective genitive?

Older conventional commentaries and grammars tend to characterize it as an objective genitive, concluding it should be rendered “faith in Christ.” With the weight of these voices, why would anyone think differently? Here’s some of the evidence:

• Romans 4:16 is structurally identical to Romans 3:26, yet no one translates it as faith in Abraham.

• Both Ephesians 2:18 and Ephesians 3:12 identify the source of our access to God. In Ephesians 2:18 our access is through Christ himself. This focus upon Christ accords well with his faith/faithfulness providing access (Ephesians 3:12).

• To view this phrase as an objective genitive creates a redundancy in Romans 3:22; Galatians 2:16; 3:22 and Philippians 3:9. However, if these verses refer to both Christ’s faith and our faith, then Paul is explaining an idea that begins with Christ’s faith and culminates with our faith in him.

• Paul wrote that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God from faith to faith (Romans 1:17; 3:21-22). If both of these expressions refer to our faith in Christ, it is unclear how this reveals the righteousness of God. However, the righteousness of God can be seen in working from Christ’s faith toward those who believe in him.

• To believe in Christ so that we might be justified by the faith/faithfulness of Christ (Galatians 2:16) fits well with “seeking to be justified in Christ” (Galatians 2:17).

What might we conclude? Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics observed, “Older commentaries (probably as a Lutheran reflex) see Christou as an objective gen., thus, ‘faith in Christ.’ However, more and more scholars are embracing these texts as involving a subjective gen. (thus, either ‘Christ’s faith’ or ‘Christ’s faithfulness’)” (p. 115).

I think the evidence leans toward the faith of Christ. What is your opinion?

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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 are the parents of two young men.

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