Several years ago I recounted some of my journey’s milestones in grappling with the phrase “faith of Christ.” Did the biblical authors use this phrase referring to our faith in Christ or Christ’s faith/ Christ’s faithfulness?
Even if all nine occurrences of the faith of Christ in the biblical text refer to Christ’s faith, this does not greatly alter our understanding of salvation because other verses teach about the necessity of our faith. So what’s the point of digging into these details? We want to do our best to accurately understand what the biblical authors intended.
Due diligence suggested exploring whether the early Christian writers, known as the Apostolic Fathers, might have also used the phrase “faith of ___.” The Journey’s Data Depot provided some of that evidence. This addition adds a more complete listing.
As a brief reminder, in the phrase “a gift of money,” “of money” limits and describes what the gift is. In Greek the word money would be in the genitive case to modify gift.
For me, the following evidence is interesting. The reason is because both the New Testament writers as well as the Apostolic Fathers demonstrated they knew how to convey “faith in” using normal conventions (dative case with or without prepositions). Why then, would they try to communicate “in” using the genitive?
Michael Holmes, in the 3rd edition of his Apostolic Fathers, translates all of the following genitive nouns and pronouns with either the customary “of” or its possessive equivalent. For example “of him” is the same as “his.”
1 Clement 1:2 “who did not approve your most excellent and steadfast faith”
1 Clement 5:6 “he won the genuine glory for his faith”
The Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians chapter 9 verse 1 “your faith is what lifts you up”
Ephesians chapter 13 verse 1 “by the unanimity of your faith”
The Letter of Ignatius to the Magnesians 1:1 “I rejoiced and resolved to address you in the faith of Jesus Christ”
The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians chapter 1 verse 2 “because your firmly rooted faith”
Philippians chapter 4 verse 3 “The widows must think soberly about the faith of the Lord”
The Letter of Barnabas chapter 1 verse 5 “along with your faith you might have perfect knowledge”
Barn. 1: 6 “and end of our faith”
Barn. 2:2 “Our faith’s helpers”
Barn. 4:9 “the whole time of our faith”
The Shepherd of Hermas 22:8 “So, brothers and sisters, having put on the faith of the Lord”
Shep. 23:4 “because of your faith”
Shep. 43:4 “So, those who are strong in the faith of the Lord”
Shep. 61:2 “put on the faith of the Lord”
Shep. 63:6 “strengthened in the faith of the Lord”
Shep. 93:5 “fell asleep in the power and faith of the Son of God”
Shep. 103:8 “These, therefore, are short in their faith”
The Epistle of Diogetus 11:6 “and the faith of the gospels is established”
The Didache 16:5 “those who endure in their faith will be saved”
Everyone agrees up to this point. The following references also contain a genitive noun or pronoun modifying faith. However, Holmes translated these as “faith in.” Was this necessary?
In order to help the English reader appreciate the Greek genitive, the following translations express the genitive idea, not the dative function of “in”. In an eight case system “in” would be the locative case.
1 Clement 3:4 “while each one has abandoned the fear of God and has become dim sighted in the faith of him”
1 Clement 27:3 “Therefore let the faith of him be rekindled in us”
The Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians chapter 16 verse 2 “if by evil teaching someone corrupts faith of God” (that is, not any type of faith but a faith associated with God)
Ephesians chapter 20 verse 1 “the divine plan for the new man Jesus Christ, in the faith of him and in the love of him, in his suffering and resurrection”
The Letter of Ignatius to the Romans chapter 1 verse 0 “through the will of the one who willed all things that exist, according to faith of and love of Jesus Christ”
The Letter of Barnabas 4:8 “might be sealed in our hearts in hope of the faith of him”
Barn. 6:17 “and we shall live in the faith of the promise”
Shepherd of Hermas 43:9 “Therefore whenever the person who has the divine spirit enters into an assembly of righteous men having faith of the divine spirit”
In the following text he translated faith as a verb, namely “you have believed.” Lightfoot rendered it as “of your faith.”
Didache 16:2 “all the time of the faith of you”
If you are interested in exploring how the earliest Christian writers used the phrase “faith of ____,” I hope this is a helpful resource. These writers do not determine New Testament usage. They do reveal how those after the time of the New Testament modified the idea of faith with a genitive noun or pronoun.
Within the New Testament what each biblical author meant by the phrase “faith of Christ” is determined by the context surrounding that phrase as well as the function of the genitive. The customary understanding is to be preferred over an unusual one.