So, Are We Saved By Our Faith in Christ?
Are We Saved By
The following article goes in depth, however, in a nutshell: We are justified, redeemed, forgiven of our sins, saved, etc. by
#1 Our Faith (We do our part)
#2 Christ (100% by Him)
If it's our faith that saves us, then it's a partnership deal. Christ did His part, but we must do ours.
This notion comes from some seriously misunderstood translations. There is no consistency among modern versions of the Bible, but the Greek is clear: We are justified by CHRIST'S FAITHFULNESS.
Did Martin Luther Get It All Wrong about Faith in Christ?
by William Walker
In a sense, the Protestant Reformation began when Martin Luther discovered the “true” meaning of Romans 1:17: a person becomes “righteous” or “justified”—that is, in right relationship with God—by faith.1 Luther then applied this insight to other Pauline passages, particularly in Romans and Galatians, and thus was born the rallying cry of the Reformation: “Justification by Faith and Not by Works.” The classic “proof text” for this is Galatians 2:16, which the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates as follows (emphasis mine):
We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.2
Until recently, most New Testament scholars (particularly Protestant ones) have concurred in Luther’s understanding of Gal 2:16 and related texts,3 and this, of course, is what most of us—at least most of us Protestants—were taught and have believed: a person is justified not by obeying the commandments but rather through faith in Christ.
Footnotes in the NRSV, however, indicate other possible translations in Galatians 2:16 and elsewhere:
Gal 2:16“the faith of Jesus Christ,”
not “faith in Jesus Christ”
Rom 3:22; Gal 3:22“the faith of Jesus Christ,”
not “faith in Jesus Christ”
Rom 3:26“the faith of Jesus,”
not “faith in Jesus”
Gal 2:16; Phil 3:9“the faith of Christ,”
not “faith in Christ”
Gal 2:20“the faith of the Son of God,”
not “faith in the Son of God”
These footnotes reflect the fact that increasing numbers of New Testament scholars are questioning the traditional Lutheran-Protestant doctrine of “Justification by Faith and Not by Works.”4
The debate hinges upon the translation of a simple two-word Greek phrase: pistis Christou.5It concerns a technical point of grammar, and so it might seem as though scholars are making a great deal of fuss over such a small matter. The stakes, however, are high—both for our understanding of Paul and for Christian theology in the wake of the Reformation. In short, if the Christou in pistis Christou is an objective genitive (“faith in Christ”), then Luther was right and Protestant theology since Luther has generally been on the right track so far as this issue is concerned. If, however, the Christou in pistis Christou is a subjective genitive (“the faith/faithfulness of Christ”), then Luther got it all wrong, and Protestant theology since Luther has generally been on the wrong track. Thus, the difference between “faith in/faithfulness to Christ” and “Christ’s [own] faith/faithfulness” is important because it goes to the very root of one of the major issues that sparked the Protestant Reformation.
A Question of Grammar
Pistis can mean (1) “belief”/ “faith”/ “trust”/ “confidence” or (2) “faithfulness”/ “trustworthiness”/ “reliability”/ “fidelity”/“commitment.” It is likely, however, that Paul’s use of pistis carries both meanings, with sometimes one and sometimes the other predominating. To simplify matters, therefore, we can say that pistis means “faith/ faithfulness.” Paul says that people are justified through faith/faithfulness.
The second word in the Greek phrase, Christou, is the genitive (possessive) form of the noun Christos, which, of course, is anglicized as “Christ.” The genitive case can express various types of relationships. When a noun or pronoun in the genitive case modifies a noun that involves some kind of physical, mental, volitional, or emotional activity (such as pistis), the genitive can be either an objective genitive (the word in the genitive case is the object of the activity indicated by the noun it modifies) or a subjective genitive (the word in the genitive case is the subject of the activity indicated by the noun it modifies). Sometimes, however, it is unclear which is intended. For example, “the love of Christ” (2 Cor 5:14) can mean either “[our] love for Christ” (objective genitive) or “Christ’s love [for us]” (subjective genitive), and “the love of God” (Rom 5:5) can mean either “God’s love [for us]” (subjective genitive) or “[our] love for God” (objective genitive).
The question, then, is whether Christou in the phrase pistis Christou is an objective or a subjective genitive. If it is an objective genitive, then pistis Christou means “faith in/faithfulness to Christ”; if, however, Christou is a subjective genitive, then pistis Christoumeans “Christ’s [own] faith/faithfulness.” Grammatically, either interpretation is possible. Translators, therefore, need to look beyond the grammar of a given sentence for clues about the precise meaning of the phrase. In what follows, I will summarize the reasoning for and against translating pistis Christou, first as an objective genitive, then as a subjective genitive.
The Objective Genitive
(Faith in/Faithfulness to Christ)
Luther interpreted Christou as an objective genitive and translated pistis Christou into his native German as Glauben an Christus (“faith in Christ”). This became generally accepted, particularly by Protestants, and is still defended by many scholars. Various arguments have been advanced supporting the objective genitive interpretation:
Paul clearly does speak at times of “having faith in/being faithful to” Christ. For example, Philemon 5 refers to “the faith/faithfulness (pistis) that you have toward the Lord Jesus,” and Paul twice employs the verb pisteuein (cognate of the noun pistis) followed by the preposition eis (“into” or “in”) with “Christ Jesus” or its equivalent as the object of the preposition (Gal 2:16; Phil 1:29). Particularly significant is Gal 2:16, which I here translate using “trust” for pistis,
But knowing that a person is not justified by works of law but by trust in Jesus Christ (pistis Iésou Christou), we also have trusted in Christ Jesus (eis Christon Iésou episteusamen)in order that we might be justified by trust in Christ (pistis Christou) and not by works of law, because by works of law no one will be justified.
Notice how the phrase with eis (“have trusted in”) occurs between the two pistis Christou phrases. This arrangement within a single sentence can be taken as strong evidence that Paul intended all three phrases to carry the same meaning.
Paul frequently uses the verb pisteuein independently, without an object, to characterize the desired stance of his readers—that is, to refer to human faith/faithfulness.6 Indeed, he regards pistis as a “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22). Thus, he suggests that pistis is something that humans exercise, not something that Christ exhibits.
Paul appears to draw a parallel between the “faith/faithfulness” of Abraham and that of his readers (Gal 3:6–9; Rom 4:1–25). Again, this suggests that pistis is exercised by humans, not by Christ.
Typically, when Paul employs the subjective genitive to indicate someone’s “faith/faithfulness,” he includes the definite article “the” before “faith/faithfulness,”7but the definite article never appears in the phrase pistis Christou. This suggests that the subjective genitive is not applicable here.
There are similar phrases in which the genitive is clearly an objective genitive, including “the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8) and “zeal for God” (Rom 10:2).
The force of these arguments is such that, on strictly exegetical grounds (that is, on the basis of a careful examination of individual passages), I would be inclined to favor the objectivegenitive interpretation of pistis Christou and would translate it as “faith in/faithfulness to Christ.”
Some critics argue against the objective genitive interpretation, however, on the grounds that it would suggest a rather serious contradiction in Paul’s theology.8 He says that people cannot be justified by “works of law”—that is, by things they do (or don’t do),9 but having faith in/being faithful to Christ is something that people either do or don’t do. Thus, justification by faith in or faithfulness to Christ would appear to suggest that people can work their way into a right relationship with God by having faith in/being faithful to Christ. In principle, this would appear to be no different from working one’s way into a right relationship with God by following the commandments, by being “good.”
Some theologians have responded to this argument by maintaining that, for Paul, faith is a gift of God, not something that is self-generated. This, however, raises another serious theological problem: some people have faith and others do not. This suggests that God arbitrarily chooses to bestow the gift of faith on some but not on others. Although Paul occasionally suggests that such is the case (see, for example, Rom 8:29–30, which, however, may be a later interpolation, and Rom 9:10–18), the main thrust of his message is that people can choose whether or not to be “reconciled to God” (Rom 5:20).
The Subjective Genitive
(Faith/Faithfulness of Christ)
In light of the above, and for other reasons as well, a few scholars have long argued, and more now insist, that the genitive in pistis Christou is a subjective genitive and that the phrase should therefore be translated as “Christ’s faith/faithfulness.”10 Various arguments have been advanced supporting this interpretation.
The most literal translation of pistis Christou (“faith/faithfulness of Christ”) would appear to support the subjective genitive interpretation.11
There are no instances in Paul’s letters where a genitive with pistis must be understood as an objective genitive, but there are places where it must be understood as a subjective genitive. For example, Rom 4:5, 4:12, and 4:16 refer, respectively, to “his [that is, Abraham’s] faith/faithfulness” (hē pistis autou), “the faith/faithfulness of Abraham” (hē pistis Abraam) and “Abraham’s faith/faithfulness” (pistis Abraam), employing what is clearly a subjective genitive for “Abraham.” Moreover, Rom 3:3 refers to “the faithfulness of God” (hē pisti tou Theou), and the meaning clearly is “God’s faithfulness,” not “faithfulness to God.”12
Translating pistis Christou as “Christ’s faith/faithfulness” overcomes the apparent contradiction in Paul’s theology, mentioned earlier, that is created by the objective genitive interpretation and would appear to be more in line with Paul’s overall theological perspective, which stresses God’s activity in Christ to effect human salvation.
If pistis Christou is translated as “Christ’s faith/faithfulness,” a clue to what Paul means by the phrase can be found in Rom 1:5, where he apparently equates pistis and hypakoē(“obedience”).13 This, in turn, points to Rom 5:18-19, where Paul contrasts Christ and Adam in the following words:
Therefore, just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.14 (NRSV, emphasis added)
The contrast is between Adam’s “trespass”/“disobedience,” which establishes people as “sinners” and leads to “condemnation for all,” and Christ’s “act of righteousness”/“obedience,” which establishes people as “righteous” (that is, “justified”) and leads to “justification and life for all.”15 Christ’s “act of righteousness”/“obedience,” reverses the “trespass”/“disobedience” of Adam. This “obedience” is then spelled out more explicitly in Phil 2:8, which says that Christ “became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” When Paul speaks, therefore, of “Christ’s faith/faithfulness” as the basis for justification, he has in mind Christ’s faithful obedience to the will of God, obedience that led to his death on the cross.
In Paul’s mind, it is Christ’s faithful obedience, and this alone, that is the basis for justification.
Thus, Luther was on the right track when he denied that human “works” could lead to justification, but he should have gone further by also denying that human “faith/faithfulness” could lead to justification.
(Highlights by webmaster)
Copyright © 2016 Westar Institute. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
William O. Walker, Jr. (Ph.D., Duke University)
is Jennie Farris Railey King Professor Emeritus of Religion at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.
The author of Gospels, Jesus, and Christian Origins (2016), Paul and His Legacy (2015), and Interpolations in the Pauline Letters (2001), he is a longtime Fellow of Westar Institute.
1. Rom 1:17 is notoriously difficult to translate. See both the translation and the footnote in the NRSV.
2. The New American Bible, the official Roman Catholic translation, is very close to the NRSV here, rendering pistis Christou as “faith in Christ.”
3. See Gal 2:15–21; 3:1–14, 23–29; 5:2–6; Rom 3:21–31; 4:1–25; Phil 3:9.
4. A good summary of the debate can be found in Part II (pp. 33–92) of E. Elizabeth Johnson and David M. Hay, eds., Pauline Theology, vol. IV: Looking Back, Pressing On (Society of Biblical Literature Symposium Series 4; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997).
5. The phrase actually appears in five different forms: pistis Iēsou Christou (Rom 3:22; Gal 3:22), pistis Iēsou (Rom 3:26), pistis Christou Iēsou (Gals 2:16), pistis Christou (Gal 2:16; Phil 3:9), and pistis tou huiouTheou (Gal 2:20; the last three words mean “of [or “in”] the Son of God”). For the sake of consistency, however, I shall use pistis Christou in the discussion that follows.
6. See, for example, 1 Thess 1:7; Gal 3:22; Rom 1:16; 3:22; 4:11; 10:4.
7. For example, Rom 1:8, 12; 3:3; 4:5. The article is absent, however, in Rom 4:16, where the genitive is clearly a subjective genitive.
8. We cannot, of course, rule out the possibility that Paul actually did contradict himself on this point. However, it is almost always better for translators to assume that Paul (or any author) did not contradict himself, especially on a matter such as this one that is so central to his theology. When considering the whole of Paul’s thought, scholars debate whether or to what extent Paul was, in fact, consistent in his own thinking. See, for example, Heikki Räisänen, “A Controversial Jew: Paul and His Conflicting Convictions,” The Fourth R 21–5 (Sep–Oct 2008) 3–7, 24.
9. Some scholars now argue that “works of law” refers specifically to the ceremonial practices that distinguished Jews from Gentiles (for example, circumcision, the dietary laws, and Sabbath observance). I find this argument unconvincing because Paul sometimes speaks of “works” without mentioning the Jewish Law (see, for example, Rom 4:4–5, which speaks of the “wage” to “the one who works” as something that is owed and the “wage” to “the one who does not work” as “grace.”
10. Despite the Lutheran-Protestant emphasis upon “faith in Christ,” English translations—including the much revered King James Version—regularly translated pistis Christou as “Christ’s faith” until the Revised Version in 1881 adopted “faith in Christ.”
11. Some years ago, I asked the Chair of Trinity University’s Department of Classical Studies how he would translate pistis Christou; his immediate response was “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness.”
12. See also Rom 1:8, 12; 1 Cor 2:5; 15:14, 17; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 2:17; 1 Thess 1:8; 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 10; Philemon 5, 6.
13. Hypakoē pisteōs should be translated as “the obedience (hypakoē) that is faith/faithfulness (pistis).” The same phrase appears at Rom 16:26, but this is widely regarded as part of a later addition (interpolation) to the letter.
14. See the entire passage: Rom 5:12–21.
15. The words translated as “righteousness,” “justification,” and “righteous” all come from the same root as the word translated in Gal 2:16 as “to be justified.”
A Response to Lane C. McGaughy
I appreciate Lane McGaughy’s response, and I agree with most of what he says. Indeed, I am increasingly inclined to accept the subjective genitive interpretation of pistis Christou (in part this might be because, theologically, I would like this to be the correct interpretation). I do, however, take issue with McGaughy at three points:
1. He prejudges the issue by saying that Christou is in “the possessive case.” If so, thenpistis Christou must be translated as “Christ’s faith/faithfulness.” Actually, however, Christou is in the genitive case, which can indicate various relationships with its antecedent noun or pronoun, including but not limited to possession. Thus “faith in Christ” or “faithfulness to Christ” are equally grammatically viable translations (e.g., “love of God” can mean either “love for God” or “God’s love).”
2. I don’t see how pistis Christou can be translated as “a confidence in God like that of God’s Anointed.” This interprets the genitive not as a subjective genitive but rather as what might be called a comparative genitive (“faith/faithfulness like Christ’s faith/faithfulness” or “Christ-like faith/faithfulness”). An important theological issue is at stake here. If pistis Christou means “Christ-like faith/faithfulness,” then “justification” (a right relationship with God) depends upon something that we do; if, however, pistis Christou means “Christ’s faith/faithfulness,” then “justification” depends solely upon what Christ has done, namely, trusting in and being faithful to God even to the point of death.
3. I certainly don’t “worry that correcting Luther’s translation of the genitive would undo the Protestant Reformation;” this doesn’t concern me. I do, however, agree with McGaughy regarding the historical relativity of all religious phenomena, the “difference between Luther’s religious experience and ‘Protestantism’,” and the fact that a key theological issue is at stake in the pistis Christou debate.
Copyright © 2016 Westar Institute. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
William O. Walker, Jr. (Ph.D., Duke University) is Jennie Farris Railey King Professor Emeritus of Religion at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. The author of Gospels, Jesus, and Christian Origins (2016), Paul and His Legacy (2015), and Interpolations in the Pauline Letters (2001), he is a longtime Fellow of Westar Institute.