Summer Slumming in the Library: “Faith in Christ” and Galatians 5:5-6

Galatians fragmentQuieter summer days on campus sometimes give faculty the opportunity to catch up on books and journals that they haven’t been able to get to during the regular academic term. I still have a large stack to work through, but one recent article that caught my eye deals with the “faith in Christ” or “faith of Christ” debate in Galatians 2.

A long-running question in the interpretation of Galatians is the translation and interpretation of the phrase διὰ πίστεως  Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ in 2:16 and elsewhere. Since the King James Version (KJV), English translations have rendered this phrase as “through faith in Christ.” That is, that we are “justified by faith in Christ.” This seems self-evident to Lutherans, since this was a key argument of the Reformation: we are justified by our faith in Jesus and not by our works.

However, “through faith in Christ” is not the only possible translation of διὰ πίστεως  Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. The grammatical question is the relationship of the genitive Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ and the noun that it modifies (διὰ πίστεως). Is Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ an objective use of the genitive, so that “Jesus Christ” is the object of the verbal action expressed in the noun “faith”? Then the translation would be “through faith in Christ.” The alternative interpretation is that Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ is a subjective use of the genitive, so that “Jesus Christ” is the subject of the verbal action expressed in the noun “faith.” In this interpretation, the translation would be “through the faith of Jesus” or “through Jesus’ faith.” Clearly, there is a rather significant difference between Paul stating that we are “justified by faith in Christ” and the alternative, that we are “justified by the faith of Jesus” or by “Jesus’ faithfulness.” Note that either translation is grammatically plausible. The Greek does not use an explicit preposition (either “in” or “of”) to settle the question. Note also that there are no grammatical “rules” that can be invoked to provide the correct answer. The resolution to the question turns on 1) the contextual argument within Galatians itself; 2) larger themes in Pauline theology and Paul’s grammatical usage elsewhere; and at times 3) one’s theological assumptions. Lutheran theology has always assumed that Paul meant “justification by faith in Christ.” In addition, Luther’s 1522 translation disambiguated the Greek with his translation “durch den Glauben an Jesum Christum” (the “an” is equivalent to English “in”).

Nevertheless, a theological argument can be made that the subjective genitive can be viewed as in accord with Lutheran theology. Arthur Just (professor at our sister seminary, Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN), for example, has made the case that “if we take the genitives as subjective genitives, however, they refer to Christ’s faith, that is, Christ’s faithful death in our behalf where ‘he died faithfully for human beings while looking faithfully to God’… We are declared righteous by God, then, either by our observance of the law or by Christ’s faithful death in our behalf. Here human action is clearly contrasted with divine initiative.” (Just, “The Faith of Christ: A Lutheran Appropriation of Richard Hays’s Proposal,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 70.1 (2006): 3-16).

This exegetical and theological debate has run through commentaries and journal articles since the 1983 publication of Richard B. Hays’ monograph, The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-11. While here we do not have space to go through the arguments in detail, Hays’ proposal is based, as the subtitle suggests, on more than simply the grammar. Rather, he argues that the “narrative substructure” of the book requires that Jesus’ faithfulness (or, “obedience”) to God, his will and his purposes, require that “Christ’s (or God’s) willing and doing over any human will or action is the theological keynote of the whole letter” (Hays, 155). This argument is picked up in the Galatians commentary by J. Louis Martyn in the Anchor Bible series. Articles and commentaries debating this question continue to be published (including a second edition of Hays’ monograph in 2002). The recent Concordia Commentary by Andrew Das walks carefully through the arguments and concludes that the issue must be settled on Paul’s argument throughout Galatians. Based especially on Paul’s usage in Gal 3:11 and the citation of Hab 2:4, Das settles on the conclusion that “the apostle sees faith as believing trust with Christ’s eschatological, saving work as that faith’s object” (pp. 319-20). That is, “faith in Christ.”

All this sets up a brief note in the most recent issue of New Testament Studies (62.3, July 2016): Debbie Hunn, “Πίστις in Galatians 5:5-6: Neglected Evidence for ‘Faith in Christ.’” Her argument is not decisive, but does lay out a few additional points in favor of “faith in Christ.” Just as Das looked at πίστις in Gal 3 to answer the exegetical question in Gal 2, Hunn argues that Gal 5:5-6 helps clarify the same question.

Hunn’s specific points are: First, Paul uses πίστις in a consistent way throughout the letter. The themes of “gift” and “promise” are present throughout Gal 2-3, and are picked up again in Gal 5. Hence, we should expect Paul to be consistent in his use of πίστις in Gal 5. Conclusions made in Gal. 5:5-6 can help clarify the previous usages in chapter 2. Second, Gal 5:5-6 must be understood as human faith, not Christ’s faith(fulness). Gal 5:5 and 5:13 share language and themes: διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης (“through love”) is present in both passages, and both describe something that flows out from faith. In 5:13, the exhortation is made to those who are in Christ to “not give opportunity to the flesh, but through love serve another.” In the same way, then, 5:5 should be understood as the “faith [of those in Christ] working through love.” As a result, Hunn concludes, the traditional translation of Gal 2:16, that “a person is not justified by works of law, but by faith in Christ,” is the correct rendering and understanding.

Another resource on this question is Jim Voelz’s What Does This Mean? There he argues that the grammatical question can be resolved through the external entailments of the head noun. Πίστις, a verbal noun, entails either “Jesus believing” (subjective genitive) or “someone believing in Jesus” (objective genitive). Voelz argues that because Paul never describes Jesus as “believing” (that is, Jesus is never the subject of the verb πιστεύω) but very often describes people believing in Jesus (indeed, in the second half of Gal. 2:16 itself!), therefore διὰ πίστεως  Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ must be translated as “by faith in Christ.” Another item to note: The same phrase διὰ  τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (clearly “through faith in Christ Jesus” due to the presence of ἐν) is written as διὰ πίστεως  Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ in 𝔓46. This is our earliest extant manuscript of Paul, from about the year 200 AD. While this manuscript has the wrong reading (a substitution) at this place, it does show that this scribe assumed that the two phrases were identical: διὰ πίστεως  Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ = διὰ  τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ = “through faith in Christ.” This understanding is consistent throughout the earliest commentaries and theological treatises, down to the time of Luther.

Now, all this might be too late for those of you who have been preaching through Galatians in Series C of the Lutheran Service Book. Presumably you revisited this question throughout the early Sundays after Pentecost. But it is always good to keep up with the Greek and make sure that we are accurate in what we are reading, teaching, and preaching. And, as a reminder, all this is consistent with the language of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, both in the translation and understanding of διὰ πίστεως  Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ at Gal 2:16 etc. as well as the relationship between “faith” and “love” at Gal 5:5-6:

We also say that love ought to follow faith, as Paul also says, Gal. 5:6: For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.  And yet we must not think on that account that by confidence in this love or on account of this love we receive the remission of sins and reconciliation, just as we do not receive the remission of sins because of other works that follow. But the remission of sins is received by faith alone, and, indeed, by faith properly so called, because the promise cannot be received except by faith. But faith, properly so called, is that which assents to the promise [is when my heart, and the Holy Ghost in the heart, says: The promise of God is true and certain]. Of this faith Scripture speaks. And because it receives the remission of sins, and reconciles us to God, by this faith we are [like Abraham] accounted righteous for Christ’s sake before we love and do the works of the Law, although love necessarily follows. (Apology IV, para. 111-114)

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