"Faith in Jesus" or "Faithfulness of Jesus"?

Reprinted with permission from Doug Kutilek’s As I See It, (May, 2010) with some editing. AISI is sent free to all who request it dkutilek@juno.com.

The question

I have come across an interesting translation of the Bible that Dallas Seminary produced. It is online, and it is called NET Bible. I was wondering if you would agree with how they translated Galatians 2:16: “… by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (other verses translated the same way are Galatians 2:20; Romans 3:22, 26; Galatians 3:22; Ephesians 3:12; Philippians 3:9). I … think this is extremely thought provoking, if their translation is correct. If you have time I would love to know your thoughts on this!

Response

I own a print copy of the First Beta edition of the NET Bible. The interpretative notes in the NET Bible at this point are undoubtedly the work of NT Professor Daniel Wallace. His Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics takes precisely the same view, and indeed with precisely the same wording much of the time.

The Greek word at issue is pistis, a noun, which occurs more than 200 times in the Greek NT. Depending on the context and how it is used, it can mean “faith” or “faithfulness” (for example, in the list of the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 6, is it “faith” or “faithfulness”? A case can be made for either meaning there).

After considering Wallace’s arguments, and examining every passage where pistis is used in the Greek NT, I must strongly disagree with the NET and Wallace’s interpretation at this point and rather side with the most widespread understanding of all these passages among grammatically-minded commentators—namely, that the use of the genitive in these passages is what grammarians call an “objective genitive.” The objective genitive means it is faith in Jesus Christ.

Faith in Christ, with Him as faith’s object, is presented as the effective means of securing salvation throughout the NT, and is taught beyond question in numerous NT passages which do not involve the issue of the force and meaning of the genitive case. For example: John 3:16; Acts 16:31, 20:21, 24:24, etc., and especially Galatians 3:26, which is in the same general context as Galatians 2:16 (see also Eph. 1:15). In Galatians 3:26 pistis is in the dative case where no other interpretation but “faith in Jesus Christ” is possible.

I cannot recall any place in Scripture where it is unambiguously stated that we are saved because of Christ’s faithfulness to us; the emphasis is always on our faith in/directed toward Him. The alternate view Wallace champions, a so-called subjective genitive (“the faithfulness of Jesus Christ”), is more novel than convincing. This view is rejected by such notable NT scholars as F. F. Bruce in his commentary on Galatians at 2:16 (I could heap up quotations and citations from grammarians and commentators who agree with Bruce, but let me simply say, it is a very strong majority). Christ is the object of our faith, and it is our faith-in/commitment-to Him that is the means of securing salvation.

In the NT, when “faithfulness” is spoken of with reference to Divine Persons, it seems to regularly refer to God the Father: “but God is faithful, who will not let you be tempted” (I Cor. 10:13), “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and justice to forgive” (I John 1:9). See also Romans 3:3 and 2 Corinthians 1:18 and others. Here, the Greek word translated “faithful” is pistos, an adjective related to the noun pistis. In Revelation 1:5 and 3:14, Jesus is called “the faithful witness,” specifying that the realm of His faithfulness there under consideration is as a witness. His soteriological work is not directly in view.

I find in checking just now, Mark 11:22, where “have faith,” literally, “of God” must be an objective genitive—“faith in God.” It would be absurd to speak of “having God’s faithfulness” in this context. Likewise, in Revelation 14:12 the term must be understood as “faith in Jesus Christ” (objective genitive).

While Christ is, of course, perfectly faithful to us, that is not the topic under consideration in the passages noted in NET. Having just now examined every verse in the NT where pistis (faith) and pistos (faithful) occur, I think the “faithfulness” interpretation put forth by Wallace and the NET Bible is without any justification at all.


Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, a website dedicated to exposing and refuting the many errors of KJVOism and has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati; and completed all requirements for a PhD except the dissertation); and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications including The Biblical Evangelist, The Baptist Bible Tribune, The Baptist Preacher’s Journal, Frontline, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and The Wichita Eagle. The father of four grown children and four granddaughters, he resides with his wife Naomi near Wichita, Kansas.

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There are 5 Comments

A. Carpenter's picture

...then it is the "faithfulness of Christ," as you have noted. However, I don't think the issue is Christ's faithfulness to us. I won't speak for the other references, but in Romans 3:22 and Philippians 3:9, the issue is Christ's faithfulness to the Father as grounds for His righteousness, which is then imputed to us. Those who defend the imputation of Christ's righteousness are often quick to identify these as subjective genitives, as it bolsters their position. That said, this use of the genitive does seem to be a minority opinion among exegetes when imputation is not on the line. And if a theological controversy is required for an interpretation to be accepted, then that interpretation must be at least suspect. This does not rule it out as the correct one, but it does cast doubt upon it.

Faith is obeying when you can't even imagine how things might turn out right.

Charlie's picture

Aaron, usually the objective genitive is defended on theological grounds. The argument for a subjective genitive is partly statistical - most personal genitives with πιστις are subjective - and partly contextual - in certain passages it seems to reduce redundancy. I favor the objective myself, but the subjective usage is not being argued in order to bolster a particular viewpoint. Theologians as diverse as conservative evangelicals and new perspective on Paul people are embracing it.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I just thought it was kind of neat to see some translation other than KJV get picked at. Smile

But I have to say I have found NET very valuable in study, especially when I'm in a hurry. I've found the notes to be priceless because, whether I agree with their translation choices or not, the notes explain why they made the choice they did.
(I do wish we had notes like that from the KJV team. It would be absolutely fascinating material!)

A. Carpenter's picture

Charlie wrote:
Aaron, usually the objective genitive is defended on theological grounds. The argument for a subjective genitive is partly statistical - most personal genitives with πιστις are subjective - and partly contextual - in certain passages it seems to reduce redundancy. I favor the objective myself, but the subjective usage is not being argued in order to bolster a particular viewpoint. Theologians as diverse as conservative evangelicals and new perspective on Paul people are embracing it.

Charlie, could you give me some NPP references that take the subjective genitive? I grant the redundancy argument, but there are more nuances to the statistical argument, such as the use of possessive personal pronouns and such. Schreiner walks through the main arguments in his Romans commentary, pp. 181-184, though he concludes the objective, as you say, on theological grounds (he would say "contextual").

Anyway, regardless of how they are defended, the point is that it is Christ's faithfulness to the Father, not to us, that is in view with the subjective genitive.

Faith is obeying when you can't even imagine how things might turn out right.

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