Sunday, April 9, 2017

Pistis christou vs pistis en christo (Paul's letters)

Yung Suk Kim

It is a shame for Christians not to read Paul's important theological phrase pistis christou (a genitive phrase) as a subjective genitive, that is, Christ's faith. Paul emphatically says that it is Christ's faith through which God's righteousness has been revealed for all who have faith (Rom 3:22). It is not simply his death but his faith through which God's love is manifested. His death is the result of his faith. But oftentimes in Christian circle, there is no emphasis on Christ's faith in his humanly struggle and existential emptiness due to his work for God. He was a real human being, who prayed to God to avoid difficult paths before him: "Father, if possible, please remove this cup from me." But he submitted to God because he found there was no other choice but to continue his work, which is to proclaim the good news of God; for some, his work is comforting, encouraging good news. For others, however, it is a sharp critique and challenge because he advocated for the poor and oppressed.

But most English Bibles, including the NRSV and NIV, translate pistis christou ("faith of Christ") in Rom 3:21-22 and Gal 2:16 as "faith in Christ," to support the doctrine of "justification by faith." This is very problematic because I don't think Paul means by believer's faith in Christ. If he had meant it, he would have used the preposition en instead of the genitive case, like "pistis en christo," which appears frequently in the Deutero-Pauline and Pastoral Letters: Col 1:4; 1 Tim 1:4; 3:13; 2 Tim 1:13; 3:15. In these later epistles, authors clearly mean believer's faith in Christ.

But in Paul's undisputed letters, he points to Christ's faith first and then believer's participation in his faith. In Rom 3:22, he says that God's righteousness comes through Christ's faith for all who have faith [in my book (see below), Rom 3:22 presents a snapshot of Paul's threefold gospel, which contains three elements of participation: God's righteousness, Christ's faith, and believer's faith]. Similarly, the righteous one shall live by faith (Rom 1:17; c.f., Hab 2:4). In Rom 3:26, Paul says that God justifies the one who has "faith of Jesus," which is Jesus's faith. Also, in Gal 2:20, he says he wants to live by Christ's faith (not "by faith in Christ") because Christ lives in him.

In 2011, I wrote A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters to check in with Paul's thought on the threefold gospel, in which I pointed out the importance of God's righteousness (not our righteousness), Christ's faith (not merely his death), and Christian participation in Jesus's faith (not merely salvific knowledge).

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